Bill Meltzer: Stars Gameday: 1/20/15 vs. BOS


Playing their final game before the NHL All-Star break, Lindy Ruff’s Dallas Stars (21-17-7) will play host to Claude Julien’s Boston Bruins (24-16-6) at the American Airlines Center on Tuesday night. Game time is 7:30 p.m. CST. The game will be televised on Fox Sports Southwest.

This is the first of two matches between the inter-Conference teams this season, and the Bruins lone trip to Dallas.

The clubs will rematch in Boston on Feb. 10.

The Stars enter this game coming off an emotional 6-3 road win in Chicago on Sunday. After struggling all season in the second half of back-to-back games, the Stars prevailed in a seesaw match. The Stars were unable to protect leads of 2-0 and 3-2 but pulled away in the third period with three unanswered goals.

Former Bruins forward Tyler Seguin opened the scoring against Chicago with his 28th goal of the season, later adding an assist on the third-period power play goal by Cody Eakin that put Dallas ahead to stay. Eakin, who also scored shorthanded in the first period, enjoyed a three-point night. The Stars also got goals by Vernon Fiddler, Erik Cole and Shawn Horcoff. Team captain Jamie Benn racked up three assists. Kari Lehtonen turned back all but three of the 41 shots fired on his net by the speedy and talented Blackhawks.

Although the team continues to struggle to hold opponents below three per game, the Stars have put together an impressive recent run to pull themselves into the thick of the chase for a Western Conference wildcard spot when the NHL schedule resumes after the All-Star break. The club has put together an 11-4-2 run over the past 17 games.

After struggling to win on home ice early this season, Dallas has restored a similar home-ice edge to the one the club enjoyed last year. The club is 10-4-1 over its last 15 home matches.

The Stars’ high-powered offense — ranked third in the NHL at 3.13 goals per game — and team speed present a significant challenge to any opponent. The team really isn’t all that different from the Eastern Conference leading New York Islanders, either stylistically or statistically. The Isles are second offensively in the NHL (3.15 goals per game), which has thus far enabled them overcome their 21st-ranked defensive play (2.78 GAA) and 28th-ranked penalty killing.

If Dallas can bring its 28th-ranked team GAA (3.24) down in the second half to something around 2.75 goals per game over the remainder of the season while scoring at the same pace, the club can make the playoffs. However, it is questionable if either the Stars or Islanders would be able to sufficiently outscore their defensive breakdowns in postseason play unless they get spectacular goaltending.

Boston will present a tough challenge for Dallas. The Bruins foundered for most of the first half of the season but have played well of late. The club had a five-game winning streak snapped in a 3-1 loss to Columbus that was tied at 1-1 until late in regulation. The defeat was Boston’s first regulation loss since Dec. 27.

As evidence that the club has been rediscovering its ability to shut down opposing clubs, the Bruins have allowed two goals or fewer in six of their past ten games and have killed off 27 of their last 29 penalties.

Boston has finally regained a reasonably healthy lineup, which was no doubt a factor in the club’s pre-Christmas inconsistency. However, the club is without speedy and agitating forward Brad Marchand, who leads the club with a dozen goals. He is serving the second and final game of an NHL suspension for slew-footing the New York Rangers’ Derick Brassard.

The Stars still have quite a few injuries. Patrick Eaves (ankle) has been upgraded to day-to-day status and is questionable for Tuesday’s game. Top-pairing defenseman Trevor Daley (undisclosed), rookie right winger Brett Ritchie (hand), second-year right winger Valeri Nichushkin (hip surgery) and rookie defenseman Patrik Nemeth (severe forearm laceration from a skate cut) all remain out of the lineup.