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Gameday: Stars Meet Avalanche In Central Division Podium Battle

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The Victory Green Gang has a critical chance to prove their mettle in a divisional game tonight.

NHL: Colorado Avalanche at Dallas Stars Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

The Dallas Stars hold second place in the murderous Central Division – for now. The third-place team, the Colorado Avalanche, are one point behind and loaded for bear. Tonight will be a crucial test as both squads seek two precious points — and to deny a close rival two more.

The good news for the Stars is that John Klingberg is expected to be back in the lineup. The blueline leader has been healing from an infection he incurred when a blocked puck split the skin above his kneecap during the Winter Classic.

Klingberg was playing some of his best hockey of the season just before the injury, so the Stars stand to benefit in a big way if he can return to form quickly. Esa Lindell has to be happier than almost anyone to see his defensive partner return. That said, he’s been making the best of the situation.

On the flip side, Corey Perry is serving the last game of his five-game Winter Classic suspension tonight. Call-up forward Joel Kiviranta practiced with the top line yesterday, which could provide some intrigue as interim head coach Rick Bowness tries to steer his team to a regular-season sweep versus what could be a potential first-round playoff opponent if things continue as they are today.

Heavy Snow

Meanwhile, in Denver, the Avalanche weathered an injury-riddled first half and have not only kept hope alive, but remained competitive. With help from likely Hart Trophy finalist Nathan MacKinnon (27 goals and 39 assists for 66 points, including four points in the last five games), they appear poised to make a race of it with the Stars and the division-leading St. Louis Blues.

Fun fact: MacKinnon has more points against Dallas (28 in 30 games) than against any other team. Can the Stars shut him down?

They also have their own defensive prodigy in Cale Makar, who’s currently averaging 20:38 time on ice and has earned 33 points in 37 games this season to date. There are still Stars fans who wonder what might have been if the team had selected Makar instead of his draft classmate, Miro Heiskanen. Sean Shapiro and Ryan Clark have wrestled that thought experiment to the ground in a new piece for The Athletic.

The Avalanche are coming off a bad week in which they lost three games in a row – most recently a close 4-3 game in overtime to the Pittsburgh Penguins. The Stars have an opportunity either to pounce on a struggling rival, or to give up a position to a team determined to correct its own course. We’ve seen them do both – which will we get tonight?

Dallas Stars

Here’s the lineup from practice today:

Jamie Benn - Tyler Seguin - Joel Kiviranta
Denis Gurianov - Roope Hintz - Joe Pavelski
Mattias Janmark - Justin Dowling - Alexander Radulov
Andrew Cogliano - Jason Dickinson - Blake Comeau

Esa Lindell - John Klingberg
Jamie Oleksiak - Miro Heiskanen
Andrej Sekera - Roman Polak

Ben Bishop gets the start in net.

Colorado Avalanche

The Avalanche rolled these lines in practice yesterday:

Gabriel Landeskog - Nathan MacKinnon - Mikko Rantanen
Valeri Nichushkin - Nazem Kadri - Mark Barberio (yes, a defender playing forward)
Tyson Jost - J.T. Compher - Vladislav Kamenev
Matt Nieto - Pierre-Edouard Bellemare - Matt Calvert

Ryan Graves - Cale Makar
Samuel Girard - Erik Johnson
Ian Cole - Nikita Zadorov

Philipp Grubauer
Pavel Francouz

Likely Scratches: Andre Burakovsky (illness), Joonas Donskoi (concussion protocol)

Broadcast Information

Puck Drop: 8 PM CST (Pepsi Center, Denver, CO)
TV: ESPN+, ALT, FSSW+
Radio: 1310 AM / 96.7 FM The Ticket
Online: Fox Sports Go app / theticket.com