This is it. The biggest game of the season is tonight. Players and coaches will say that every game down this stretch has been the biggest game of the season to that point. But none will have a greater impact than this one against the very team the Dallas Stars are fighting for a playoff spot with — the Nashville Predators.
A lot of things are stacked against Dallas tonight. They have fewer regulation wins than Nashville this season. They’ve lost a ton of head-to-head matches in overtimes or shootouts. Their road record has been the definition of “meh”. Add to it that they’re still very much a banged up group, and there’s a lot of reasons why the Stars could lose tonight.
But that’s why the games are played.
Antoin Khudobin has sparkling results at Bridgestone Arena. Jason Robertson, named the NHL’s rookie of the month in April, has been absolutely fire for Dallas. When Roope Hintz is in the lineup, he’s also provided the back half of the one-two punch for Dallas’ offense. John Klingberg scored the overtime goal that advanced the Stars past a first-round upset of the Predators just a few seasons ago. They came back from a two-goal deficit to rattle off four goals and win the Winter Classic in front of the second-largest crowd of a NHL game in league history. In other words, when the stakes are raised in recent history, Dallas finds a way against that team from Nashville.
Of course, those past Predators teams haven’t had Juuse Saros. The goaltender has taken over as a stud in Nashville’s net, posting a 18-10-1 record with a .926 save percentage and a 2.36 goals against average. Though they’ve cooled off lately, going 5-4-1 in their last 10 games, don’t sleep on Saros single-handedly stealing a game for Nashville if needed. Not to mention the Predators had a gift the Stars haven’t seen in months: rest. They were idle at home for three straight days with no games while the Stars hit the road and took on the Tampa Bay Lightning.
Though Dallas got beat (uglily, too) by the defending Stanley Cup champs, Dallas has bounced back after bad outings so far this season. We’ll see if they do the same tonight.
DALLAS STARS LINEUP
Jason Robertson - Roope Hintz - Joe Pavelski
Joel Kiviranta - Jamie Benn - Denis Gurianov
Andrew Cogliano - Radek Faksa - Blake Comeau
Tanner Kero - Jason Dickinson - Mark Pysyk
Esa Lindell - John Klingberg
Jamie Oleksiak - Miro Heiskanen
Joel Hanley - Andrej Sekera
Khudobin in net. Tyler Seguin, who has been working his way back from off-season surgery, was deemed “very, very questionable” by head coach Rick Bowness for tonight’s game. However, take all injury updates from him with a grain of salt - the Stars’ bench boss is notoriously sneaky about these things.
NASHVILLE PREDATORS LINEUP
Eeli Tolvanen - Ryan Johansen - Viktor Arvidsson
Calle Jarnkrok - Mikael Granlund - Luke Kunin
Nick Cousins - Erik Haula - Matt Duchene
Yakov Trenin - Colton Sissons - Tanner Jeannot
Roman Josi - Matt Benning
Mattias Ekholm - Ryan Ellis
Ben Harpur - Erik Gudbranson
Juuse Saros should be in net unless the Predators want to overthink this choice with the biggest win of their season on the line. (Crazier things have happened....)