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Dallas Stars Host Chicago Blackhawks to Kick Off 2014-2015 Season (7:30pm CDT)

How much better are the Stars after the acquisitions of Hemsky and Spezza? A huge opening night test against the mighty Blackhawks gives them a chance to start proving it.

Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

Dallas Stars fans, the moment has arrived.

You have survived that long trek across the desert that is the NHL's off-season once again, and your reward is a juicy matchup with the recognized class of the Central Division- Those mighty Chicago Blackhawks.

After giving the Anaheim Ducks a good run for their money in April and a couple of splashy acquisitions in July via the trade market and free agency, much has been said about these seemingly ascendant Stars, but head coach Lindy Ruff knows that now it's time to prove themselves on the ice.

"I like where we are at," he told media Wednesday, "but I think our team understands we have to be ready to outwork teams. There has been a lot of nice things said about us, but we've got to put the work in. It just won't happen. It's the point I am really trying to drive home. We have a lot of work ahead of us. It's not going to be easy."

The difficulty starts this evening with Vegas' odds-on favorite to win it all in the Hawks.

That Antoine Roussel penalty shot goal in Chicago last December to win a big game is already a cherished memory of a season that saw a lot of steps in the right direction. The other four games against Chicago in 2013-2014? Well...

5-2 loss in Dallas on November 9th
2-1 loss in Dallas on November 29th
6-2 loss in Dallas on December 10th
4-2 loss in Chicago on March 25th

There's some, uh, room for improvement the Stars hope to start taking advantage of tonight at 7:30 at American Airlines Center. It's Fox Sports Southwest on the TV side and Sports Radio 1310 The Ticket in your automobile.

The Stars:

Dallas will present a forward lineup that looks a lot like what many of us would have drawn on a cocktail napkin on July 7th, as lines in practice yesterday were these:

Benn-Seguin-Nichushkin
Eaves-Spezza-Hemsky
Roussel-Eakin-Garbutt
Horcoff-Fiddler-Sceviour/Cole

Nichushkin may start on the top line, but that doesn't mean that's where he'll finish.

"He was sick," Ruff told media Wednesday of Val's preseason. "He dealt with a little bit of a hip flexor, which kept him out of a lot of practices. I'd really like to get him up to speed. I don't think he is there. He's close. That's why I have platooned some guys. I don't know if he can keep the pace for a full game, the pace I would expect him to play at."

Colton Sceviour had previously spent some time on a practice line with Benn and Seguin, but Eaves or Cole could be used to plug a hole if the need arises. We'll see after morning skate if Nichushkin is ready for game action in a big opening night spot in Ruff's estimation.

Erik Cole's two-day demotion from the second line to the fourth was seemingly related to tardiness to Monday's practice -- a notion that Ruff psuedo-confirmed Monday with "it may be, yeah." Expect him to be back with Spezza at some point.

Sergei Gonchar's injury has seen the defense get shaped thusly as game one approaches:

Goligoski-Daley
Dillon-J Benn
Nemeth-Connauton

Watching how Ruff deploys his units in strategic situations, or as was sometimes the case last season, not, will be interesting with such a strong visiting lineup and two sophomores on that third pairing.

Kari Lehtonen should be good to go after a brief bout with a concussion to conclude the preseason.

The Blackhawks:

Chicago came within a goal of punching their ticket to the Stanley Cup Finals last season, where they would have almost assuredly beat the New York Rangers and claimed another Cup. Instead, bitterness and a golden opportunity slipped away as they lost lead after lead to the Los Angeles Kings in an exciting seven game series.

Don't feel bad for them, of course. They're returning virtually their entire roster. Plus, oh yeah, they signed Brad Richards for pennies on the dollar, because pennies were about all they had under the new cap.

Chicago was over the cap ceiling for the last several months after signing the former Dallas Star to a one-year, $2 milllion contract in July before trading Nick Leddy and his $2.7 million cap hit to the New York Islanders last week, ending speculation on how they'd get under the bar.

"There have been a lot of reports about different cap numbers," Hawks owner Rocky Wirtz told ESPN colorfully, "but he had it down to the gnat's ass."

Indeed.

The result is that Kyle Cumiskey and Trevor van Riemsdyk make the squad of 13 forwards and eight defensemen despite prospects Adam Clendening and Stephen Johns being considered the favorites when camp began.

Their roster tonight is filled with the usual deadly suspects. Think the Stars are deep? Try having Brad Richards as your third line center after making teams deal with either Toews/Sharp/Hossa OR Saad and Kane. Yikes.

Sharp-Toews-Hossa
Saad-Shaw-Kane
Bickell-Richards-Morin
Carcillo-Kruger-Smith

Keith-Seabrook
Hjalmarsson-Van Riemsdyk
Rundblad-Oduya

That's why they're the preseason favorite to take the big prize home yet again in the coming spring. Forget not Corey Crawford and his 2.15 GAA over the last two seasons combined -- a gaudy number for an underrated goaltender the Stars must attempt to crack this evening.

Kris Versteeg will miss three weeks for Chicago with an undisclosed lower-body injury.

We'll see you there. Or we'll see you here for our first gameday thread of the season.

Hockey. Is. Back.