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Gameday Preview: Stars Meet Predators In Winter Classic Precursor

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Their first matchup since the 2019 Stanley Cup playoffs sets the stage for Drama! (or, another day in the #MurderDeathKill Division).

NHL: Stanley Cup Playoffs-Dallas Stars at Nashville Predators Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

Before they clash in the Cotton Bowl, the Dallas Stars meet the Nashville Predators in Music City. It’s a showdown that’s been a long time coming, and it’s a test of the Stars’ mettle against a dangerous divisional opponent that may be down, but not out.

It’s their first meeting since the Stars bounced the heavily favored Predators from the first round of the 2019 Stanley Cup playoffs in six games. That moment of peak wild-card chaos has only sharpened a back-and-forth that gets more intense with every meeting.

“We’ve been building a rivalry with them, and I think it gets better and better every year,” blueliner Taylor Fedun told the media last night. “And the way things ended in the playoffs for them last year, and then we’ve got the big game on New Year’s Day this year. So I think it’s important for us to try and get our rest while we can tonight, and put our best foot forward tomorrow and start this rivalry this season off right.”

And it may be a cliché that playoffs create rivalries, but only because it’s true, adds interim head coach Rick Bowness.

“I’m sure they’re going to come out and try to recreate that rivalry,” he told DBD’s Taylor Baird in the post-game presser. “It’s a big divisional game, and we’ve got to be ready for them. The Winter Classic will take care of itself. I think right now they’re focused on the losing to us in the playoffs, and this is their first kick at us.”

The Stars gave up a point to the Vegas Golden Knights last night, but they still sit comfortably in the Central Division’s first wildcard spot with 40 points. On the second night of a home-and-away, they will seek to gain ground on a Winnipeg Jets team tied on points, but with a game in hand – as well as to impose their will on a rival starting with their first meeting of the season.

A Tale Of Two Cities

The key to the game could be whose best scorers act like their best scorers. Tyler Seguin and Jamie Benn have scored only fitfully, by their standards. While the pair did have a series of pretty assists, including a nice feed from Seguin on Benn’s equalizer against the Golden Knights, that was Seguin’s first point since the Stars defeated the Jets at home on November 21. Meanwhile, last night’s game-tying goal was only the Captain’s seventh in his 33 games played in the season to date. Seguin, of course, is on a double-digit goal drought.

Nashville hasn’t had a great season in that regard, either. Ryan Johansen has struggled conspicuously and is well off his own career pace with only six goals in 30 games so far. Calle Jarnkrok has fared somewhat better with 11 goals in 30 games, including two in his past four. Filip Forsberg also has 11 goals, but in only 24 games so far..

Currently, the Predators sit sixth in the Central standings with 33 points, after playing fewer contest than any of their competitors. They have at least two games in hand on every division mate, and three on the Stars. Nashville both wants and needs to take advantage; they will never have a better opportunity to gain ground on the teams they will have to fight for playoff position.

They’re in a good position to do just that, even after a 4-3 regulation loss to the Buffalo Sabres on Thursday. The Predators have earned points in seven of their last nine games and would love to leave Bridgestone Arena with even more.

Don’t forget the relatively early start time of 5:30 p.m. Central time. The Stars are not expected to practice today, so lines are not expected to change – with the likely exception of Anton Khudobin playing the second game of the back-to-back in net.

John Klingberg is expected to join the team in Music City after taking personal leave last night to attend to an illness in his family. We certainly extend our best wishes to John and his family.

Juuse Saros was in net for Thursday night’s loss against the Sabres. Nashville has not yet announced whether he or Pekka Rinne will get the start.

Dallas Stars Lineup

FORWARDS

Jamie Benn (14) - Mattias Janmark (13) - Tyler Seguin (91)

Alexander Radulov (47) - Roope Hintz (24) - Joe Pavelski (16)

Andrew Cogliano (11) - Radek Faksa (12) - Blake Comeau (15)

Denis Gurianov (34) - Jason Dickinson (18) - Corey Perry (10)

DEFENSE

Esa Lindell (23) - John Klingberg (3)

Jamie Oleksiak (2) - Miro Heiskanen (4)

Andrej Sekera (5) - Roman Polak (45)

IN GOAL

Anton Khudobin (35)

Nashville Predators Lineup

FORWARDS

Filip Forsberg (9) - Ryan Johansen (92) - Calle Jarnkrok (19)

Mikael Granlund (64) - Kyle Turris (8) - Matt Duchene (95)

Rocco Grimaldi (23) - Nick Bonino (13) - Craig Smith (15)

Daniel Carr (26) - Colton Sissons (10) - Austin Watson (51)

DEFENSE

Roman Josi (59) - Ryan Ellis (4)

Mattias Ekholm (14) - Dante Fabbro (57)

Dan Hamhuis (5) - Matt Irwin (52)

IN GOAL (TBD)

Pekka Rinne (35)

Juuse Saros (74)