The Dallas Stars close out their six-game homestand tonight against the Chicago Blackhawks, and they'll be looking to close it out on a high note and with an important two points.
The Stars (21-21-10) come into tonight's game in 12th place in the Western Conference and four points out of a playoff spot. Tonight's two points are big for the Stars, who are trying to keep pace in the playoff race.
"It's almost a must with where we are right now," Ruff said. "We had the opportunity late in the game against Winnipeg (4-3 loss Thursday) to at least secure a point, and we missed a couple of good opportunities. It has been a real good stretch of hockey, but we need more points. We need to finish when we have those opportunities, and we need to get the points we need when we have those opportunities."
The Stars are 2-1-2 in the first five games of the homestand. A win tonight would give them eight of 12 points in the six games before they start of stretch of five of six away from home. But they'll have to beat a Chicago team they have yet to beat in three times this season (0-2-1).
"It would be huge," said Stars center Radek Faksa. "We've been doing pretty good at home this year, so it will be huge for us to get the win at home before we go on the road and get closer to the playoff spot."
Video: Ruff on matchup with Blackhawks
The Stars are expected to make one lineup change tonight. With Jason Spezza out due to the upper body injury he suffered in Thursdays' game against the Jets, Curtis McKenzie will draw back into the lineup. The Stars didn't run lines this morning, so warm-ups will reveal how Ruff adjusts his lines without Spezza. On Friday, he indicated he could use Brett Ritchie to take Spezza's spot on the line with Antoine Roussel and Tyler Seguin. Jiri Hudler skated late, so he is the expected scratch at forward.
The Stars are not expected to make any changes on defense. Julius Honka skated late, indicating he will be scratched for a second straight game.
Kari Lehtonen was the first goaltender off the ice for the Stars, so he is expected to make his third straight start and tenth straight appearance in a Dallas game. Lehtonen will have a slightly different look tonight as the NHL debuts new streamlined goaltender pants starting with today's games.
Oleksiak 7-10 days away
Stars defenseman Jamie Oleksiak, who has missed the past ten games with a hand injury, skated with the team this morning. Oleksiak has been skating on his own, but this was the first time he has skated with the team since being injured in the Jan. 10 game against Anaheim. He's to the point where the Stars can put a time frame on his return.
"He's probably within a week, a week to ten days," Ruff said. "He's in what we call light duty, so he can get his legs back under him and get back into game shape."
Corey Crawford will get the start in goal tonight for the Blackhawks. Crawford is 19-12-3 with a 2.56 goals-against average and .917 save percentage. Chicago (31-17-5) snapped a three-game losing streak with a 4-3 win at Arizona Thursday. Tonight's game is the third of six straight on the road for the Blackhawks.
Who: Chicago Blackhawks at Dallas Stars
Where: American Airlines Center
When: 7:00 p.m.
TV: Fox Sports Southwest
Radio: The Ticket 1310 AM/96.7 FM
Stars Projected Lineup
Jamie Benn - Cody Eakin - Patrick Eaves
Devin Shore - Radek Faksa - Patrick Sharp
Antoine Roussel - Tyler Seguin - Brett Ritchie
Curtis McKenzie - Adam Cracknell - Lauri Korpikoski
Esa Lindell - John Klingberg
Dan Hamhuis - Jordie Benn
Patrik Nemeth - Stephen Johns
Scratched: Jiri Hudler, Julius Honka
Injured: Jason Spezza (upper body), Johnny Oduya (lower body), Jamie Oleksiak (hand), Ales Hemsky (hip), Mattias Janmark (knee)
Blackhawks Projected Update
Nick Schmaltz - Jonathan Toews - Richard Panik
Artemi Panarin - Artem Anisimov - Patrick Kane
Dennis Rasmussen - Marcus Kruger - Marian Hossa
Ryan Hartman - Tanner Kero - Jordin Tootoo
Duncan Keith - Niklas Hjalmarsson
Gustav Forsling - Brent Seabrook
Brian Campbell - Trevor van Riemsdyk
Scratched: Vinnie Hinostroza, Michal Kempny, Andrew Desjardins
Injured: Michal Rozsival (lower body)
This story was not subject to 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.