The Dallas Stars sit three points behind the Chicago Blackhawks with just 30 games to play, and the two meet for two massive contests over the next six days that could widen the margin quite a bit, or lock the two even close for a fun battle down the stretch.
That is, if the Stars can survive the two contests without their second-line center in Jason Spezza.
"It looks like a little bit of time," Ruff said after the team's win over the Avalanche Tuesday. "I'm going to say it's more than a few days."
At least seven days, actually, as the team placed him on injured reserve Wednesday and called up Radek Faksa from the AHL's Texas Stars.
Dallas defeated these Blackhawks here at American Airlines Center in December by a lopsided score of 4-0, but since the team's have gone in separate directions.
Chicago soon after ripped off a dozen consecutive victories to overtake Dallas for first in the West while the Stars over that same span would drop eight of twelve. While Dallas' defense relapsed the Hawks' stiffened, going on an 11-game span where they allowed 16 total goals.
They dropped three of four headed into the All-Star break, though no harm done as each of the trio came against Easter Conference competition, sandwiching a 2-0 win over the St. Louis Blues in there. Like Dallas they've won both of their contests in February, defeating the Coyotes in OT on Thursday in Glendale and the Avalanche 2-1 Tuesday.
In Spezza's absence Thursday Ruff put Janmark with Patrick Eaves and Patrick Sharp while Cody Eakin enjoyed the company of Ales Hemsky and Antoine Roussel. Val Nichushkin looked the part with Benn and Seguin.
Now Radek Faksa will likely be thrown into that mix, but without a practice to report on Friday we'll all have to wait until later this morning to see what Ruff may have in store. With the daunting opponent and newness of the personnel situation there could be a "Ruffling" in store for the group.
One thing that's been consistent lately is what's in Lindy Ruff's net, which would appear to be his number-one netminder in the form of Antti Niemi. Kari Lehtonen's last action was January 19th in a loss to the Los Angeles Kings. Will he back in the action? Our money is on riding the hot hand.
Whoever it is will have to face hockey's best scorer, and it's not even close any more after the Hawks went one way and the Stars went the way of their best two players- Who have fallen behind Patrick Kane and it's not even close now as he leads Jamie Benn 75-58.
Kane's been held pointless only nine times this season- One of them by the Stars. It would seem an oversimplification to say that stopping him is the key to victory, but he's contributed on 50% of their 154 goals.
Marcus Kruger is out with a wrist injury.
From Stars PR:
The Dallas Stars and Chicago Blackhawks meet on Saturday night at American Airlines Center for the second of five games during the 2015-16 season. The Stars defeated the Blackhawks, 4-0, in the first meeting of the season on Dec. 22 behind a clean sheet from Stars goaltender Antti Niemi, who stopped all 20 shots he faced against his former team. Ten different Stars players recorded a point in the game, including multi-point outings from forward Patrick Sharp (1-1=2) and defenseman Jason Demers (0-2=2). Defenseman Johnny Oduya, who played with Chicago from 2011-2015, registered an assist (0-1=1) with a +2 plus/minus rating. Dallas has won three straight games against Chicago (3-0-0) and have collected points in four straight games against them (3-0-1). Saturday's game marks the first of two games in a six-day span, with the Stars and Blackhawks meeting again on Thursday, Feb. 11 at United Center in Chicago.
KLINGBURGER IN PARADISE
Stars defenseman John Klingberg recorded the overtime game-winning goal (1-0=1) on Thursday night against the Colorado Avalanche and now has points in three-straight games (2-2=4) and in four of his last five games (2-3=5). He now has two overtime game-winners this season and three in his NHL career. Per the Elias Sports Bureau, his three overtime winners tie the franchise record for most overtime goals by a defenseman, joining Trevor Daley, Richard Matvichuk and Sergei Zubov. During the 2015-16 campaign, Klingberg has recorded a career-high 43 points (8-35=43) with a +17 plus/minus rating, sharing fourth in the NHL in assists (35) and tied for 12th in plus/minus (+17). The native of Gothenburg, Sweden has skated in five games against the Blackhawks in his NHL career, recording points in four of those games (0-5=5).