Dallas Stars Morning Skate: Antti Niemi Looks Like Starter; Kris Russell and Jamie Benn Skate

Kris Russell may be able to play after a brief illness, but the bigger news is in net where Antti Niemi will make his first start of the playoffs.

The Dallas Stars were not shy about using both halves of their two-headed starting goalie monster throughout the regular season, and it appears things will be no different in the playoffs.

While Kari Lehtonen was far from the problem in the Stars 5-3 loss in Game 3 to the Minnesota Wild, it appears coach Lindy Ruff has decided to put Antti Niemi in net tonight for Game 4. The decision makes sense given the context of how the Stars have managed things so far, as Niemi played very well in his last game of the season (the 3-2 victory over a resting Nashville Predators squad) and has put together a solid record over the last few weeks.

It also parallels how the Stars handled situations during the regular season, giving the other goalie the start after a loss. It kept both Lehtonen and Niemi fresh as well as theoretically gave the team in front of them the opportunity for a full mental reset.

And coming into tonight's game in an ideal frame of mind will be very important, as Ruff has correctly pinpointed this game as probably the biggest one of the series.

I know this sounds crazy, but this is the biggest game of the series, obviously, for both teams. For us, it's push-back time. I like where we're at, we're at 2-1. I like our 5-on-5 game, I think for the most part, all our players are on the plus side. We've lost the special teams battle and our special teams have been so good down the stretch. We've gotta tip that scale in our direction. If we win the special teams battle, I think we'll be in a lot better place. But I looked at the guys before this series started and I told them 'We're in for a tough series, there's gonna be nothing easy about this series.' We lost one game, we won two and lost one. It always seems hard, but that group, we talked about the start of the game coming into the last game, the energy that's gonna be in this building and the start we want to get off to. We got off to a good start, I just forgot to talk about the finish. Put that on me.

The difference between a 2-2 series and a 3-1 series can hardly be overstated, after all.

As far as other news and notes from this week, someone wrote on Twitter yesterday Jamie Benn developed 50,000 helicopter moms Tuesday afternoon when he missed practice for a maintenance day, but he returned as normal today for the morning skate and appears ready to go.

Tyler Seguin is still back in Dallas and not yet skating again, according to Jim Nill.

Defenseman Kris Russell, who missed Tuesday's practice with an illness, also returned is officially questionable, though Ruff said that if he felt well in warmups, there is a "good chance" he would come into the lineup. The Stars are planning to skate seven defensemen and 13 forwards in warm up because what is this time of year if not for as much mystery around a lineup as possible.