"Once they get the lead, they're above the puck on every play," Lindy Ruff said afterward. "We gave them the lead right off the start. They didn't have to gamble, they didn't have to risk anything and they're a good defending team. They're one of the best defending teams there is."
The Stars were graciously granted tremendous reprieves heading into that one when the St. Louis Blues and Chicago Blackhawks both lost the night before, giving Dallas a chance to grab sole possession of first place in the division.
So now Ruff's squad find themselves with yet another opportunity to get out in front- This time against the Tampa Bay Lightning.
The Stars' head coach remarked that it was hard to judge where his team is right now given the personnel trouble, but it's a situation that will change soon- The question is if it changes tonight.
John Klinbgerg practiced Wednesday and has not been ruled out. He practiced, however, with Jordie Benn- Who has been. So it's anyone's guess as the Stars appear more hopeful than anything else that they can get a body back in the lineup this evening.
The other such possibility for return is Patrick Sharp, who also practiced but is being called questionable. Jason Demers, Mattias Janmark and Jordie Benn will not play.
Mike Heika of the Dallas Morning News reported lines at practice as being these-
So it was crystal clear, then you get to that fourth line and it becomes somewhat less so. We'll see at morning skate and in warmups this evening.
The events of the last several games do not paint a clear picture in net either. The Stars have seen both Niemi and Lehtonen struggle as the team's given up five goals in each of its last two games and a robust 16 over their last four as team defense and netminding continues to be an issue belying their status as the Central's top team.
This evening's festivities will inherit a bittersweet emotional background as long time captain and former All-Star Brenden Morrow is expected to announce his retirement earlier in the day back with his home in the Stars, then be honored during the contest tonight.
The Lightning, meanwhile, suffered the ultimate indignity that Dallas knows so well- Getting defeated by the Toronto Maple Leafs. Jonathan Bernier stopped 26 of 27 and the Leafs took home a 4-1 win in Ontario Tuesday while the Kings were beating up on the Stars.
The loss dropped the Lightning to a 1-3-1 record of their last five games, but that's not who they are. Who they are was more closely represented by the nine games before that- All wins. Nine in a row while scoring four or more seven times over that span. That's who the Stars face tonight while needing to shore up things in their own end.
Their offense can do what Dallas' can on one end- But their goaltending has been much more consistent on the other. Ben Bishop has a .928 save percentage to go with his 2.02 GAA, and backup Vasilevskiy boasts a .915 save percentage and 11 wins on the season.
On the line for Tampa Bay- Aside from washing the taste of a loss to Toronto out of their collective mouths- First place in their division as they could tie the Panthers at 87 points. The Stars seem to be playing a lot of these "first place on the line" games of late.
From Stars PR:
THUNDER AND LIGHTNING
The Dallas Stars play the fourth game of a five game homestand at American Airlines Center on Thursday night against the Tampa Bay Lightning. Dallas and Tampa Bay meet for the second and final time this season, with the Stars looking to snap a three-game losing skid on home ice to the Lightning (last win: 4-3, Nov. 28, 2009). Dallas leads the season series (1-0-0) and won the first matchup of the season, 5-3, on Oct. 15 at Amalie Arena. Five Stars players recorded multi-point games on the evening including captain Jamie Benn (1-1=2), forward Tyler Seguin (1-1=2) and forward Jason Spezza (1-1=2). The Stars used their special teams play to help secure the road win, going 2-of-3 (66.6%) on the power play, while killing off all of the Lightning's opportunities on the man advantage (2-for-2).
THE GOOSE IS ON THE LOOSE
Stars defenseman Alex Goligoski recorded a goal (1-0=1) on Tuesday night and now has points in three-straight games (1-3=4) and has tallied points in seven of his last eight contests (1-8=9). Goligoski is currently riding a five-game point streak (1-6=7) at American Airlines Center. The blueliner ranks 24th in the NHL with 23:48 average time on ice. Among all team skaters, he leads the club in average time on ice. The native of Grand Rapids, Minn. is second on the team with 128 blocked shots and ranks third with 86 hits. Goligoski is riding a four-game point streak against Tampa Bay (1-4=5) and has recorded 11 points (3-8=11) in 13 career games against the Lightning.