It’s only game 49, and there is a lot of hockey to be played, but the Dallas Stars are looking at tonight’s game in Winnipeg as a big one.
The Jets hold the first wild card spot in the Western Conference and sit nine points ahead of the Stars coming into tonight’s game at MTS Centre. With a win, the Stars can pull closer to the Jets and keep them within striking distance with more than 30 games to go. Don’t win, and the Jets’ lead in points hits the double digit mark and catching them looks tough.
“If we want to keep them in the chase in our pursuit, this is a big game for us. Otherwise, that point gap gets to a point where it is tough to close,” said Stars coach Lindy Ruff. “The more teams you can keep in that area – a five, six-team race – the better it will be.”
While tonight’s game is a big one because of the opponent, Ruff said all games are big for the Stars right now as they try to climb back into the top eight in the West. They are four points out of the second wild card spot coming into tonight’s game, and there are a couple of teams ahead of them in the chase.
“We’re in a situation where we have to show desperation every game. I can go in and say that every game. We need that with where we are at,” said Ruff. “We need desperation. We need shot blocking. We need special teams performance. We need our goaltender to make big saves. We need everything.”
The Stars will make one lineup adjustment tonight. Jordie Benn, who was a healthy scratch Thursday, will be back in the lineup and Jamie Oleksiak will sit out against the Jets. The forward lines are expected to look the same as Thursday’s game in Ottawa. Kari Lehtonen will get the start in net.
There was nothing new on injured forwards Erik Cole (upper body) and Brett Ritchie (undisclosed). Both are close to returning, but it won’t be tonight in Winnipeg.
Michael Hutchinson will get the start in goal tonight for the Jets. The rookie netminder is 14-5-2 with a 2.00 goals against average and .932 save percentage.
“I really, really like the way he looks in the net,” Jets coach Paul Maurice said. “I know we look at numbers and results – and you have to do that – but how comfortable, how competitive a guy looks in the net, and the kind of saves he makes. ... He looks really good right now. We’ve got three sets of back-to-back games (remaining), and we’ll prepare for who’s going to play in those. But after that, there’s room to rest a guy and play a guy more. I felt Mike was right where he needed to be.”
Hutchinson faced the Stars earlier this season, stopping 26 of 28 shots in a 5-2 Winnipeg win in Dallas on Dec. 9.
Who: Dallas Stars at Winnipeg Jets
Where: MTS Centre
When: 6:00 p.m.
Radio: The Ticket 1310 AM/96.7 FM
Stars projected lineup
Jamie Benn – Tyler Seguin – Patrick Eaves
Shawn Horcoff – Jason Spezza – Ales Hemsky
Antoine Roussel – Cody Eakin – Ryan Garbutt
Travis Moen – Vernon Fiddler – Colton Sceviour
Alex Goligoski – John Klingberg
David Schlemko – Trevor Daley
Jordie Benn – Jason Demers
Scratched: Jamie Oleksiak
Injured: Erik Cole (upper body), Brett Ritchie (undisclosed), Valeri Nichushkin (hip), Patrik Nemeth (arm)
Jets projected lineup
Andrew Ladd - Bryan Little - Blake Wheeler
Mathieu Perreault - Mark Scheifele - Michael Frolik
Evander Kane - Adam Lowry - Chris Thorburn
TJ Galiardi - Jim Slater - Anthony Peluso
Toby Enstrom - Dustin Byfuglien
Ben Chiarot - Zach Bogosian
Mark Stuart - Jacob Trouba
Scratched: Jay Harrison, Paul Postma, Adam Pardy
Injured: Matt Halischuk (lower body), Grant Clitsome (upper body)
This story was not subject to the approval of the National Hockey League or Dallas Stars Hockey Club. Mark Stepneski is an independent writer whose posts on DallasStars.com reflect his own opinions and do not represent official statements from the Dallas Stars. You can follow Mark on Twitter @StarsInsideEdge.