The Dallas Stars and Boston Bruins take to the ice at the American Airlines Center before noon Sunday, and it’s all NBC’s fault.
The brunch-time battle marks the Stars’ first nationally-televised game of the season, and the start time is geared toward the television audience. Unfortunately for both the home team and NBC, Sunday’s match-up can’t be sold as a “potential Stanley Cup Final preview.” Friday’s trade of Patrick Eaves to Anaheim indicated the focus of Stars’ management has shifted to the June expansion and entry drafts and the 2017-18 campaign.
Stars bench boss Lindy Ruff and his players remain stuck in this season of disappointment, however. The team’s focus through the remaining 21 games is straightforward: battle to the end, try to play to your full potential and build some momentum heading into next season. The Vegas expansion draft provides incentive, as players will strive to force the Stars to protect them (each club may protect either seven forwards, three defensemen and one goalie or eight skaters and one goalie) or draw the attention of Golden Knights scouts, get claimed in the draft and move on to a new opportunity out West.
The visiting Bruins are very much in the playoff hunt, however. They come into Sunday’s game with 68 points and a 7-3-0 record in their last 10. The B’s are battling the Senators, Maple Leafs and Panthers for second and third place in the Atlantic Division. Add the Islanders to the mix, and that group is fighting for the second Wild Card spot in the East.
Dallas is the final stop for the Bruins on a four-game road trip following their bye week. They rolled through California in the last seven days, with a 5-3 loss to the Anaheim Ducks sandwiched between victories over the San Jose Sharks and Los Angeles Kings. The Bruins hope to pick up two more points before heading home Sunday afternoon.
Boston Bruins at Dallas Stars
American Airlines Center – 11:30 am CST
Broadcast channels – NBC
2016-17 Season Series: First Meeting of the Season
Boston Bruins: 31-24-6 – 68 Points
Road Record: 16-11-6
Hot Players: Brad Marchand, David Krejci, Torey Krug, Frank Vatrano and Ryan Spooner
Key Injuries: None
Brad Marchand – Patrice Bergeron – David Backes
Peter Cehlarik – David Krejci – David Pastrnak
Frank Vatrano – Ryan Spooner – Jimmy Hayes
Matt Beleskey – Dominic Moore – Tim Schaller
Torey Krug – Adam McQuaid
Zdeno Chara – Brandon Carlo
Kevan Miller – Colin Miller
Dallas Stars: 24-27-10 – 58 Points
Home Record: 17-9-6
Hot Players: Antoine Roussel, Jamie Benn, Patrick Eaves and Tyler Seguin
Key Injuries: Adam Cracknell, Mattias Janmark and Ales Hemsky
Jamie Benn – Cody Eakin – Brett Ritchie
Antoine Roussel – Tyler Seguin – Patrick Sharp
Lauri Korpikoski – Radek Faksa – Jason Spezza
Curtis McKenzie – Devin Shore – Jiri Hudler
Esa Lindell – John Klingberg
Dan Hamhuis – Jordie Benn
Johnny Oduya – Stephen Johns
1) An 11:30 CST start means no morning skate, so all projected lines and defense pairs above are merely semi-educated guesses. Johnny Oduya has practiced with the team since Thursday, so look for him in the lineup Sunday.
2) With Patrick Eaves gone and Adam Cracknell on IR, the Stars were down to 12 healthy forwards. It was only a matter of time before a player down in Cedar Park made the drive up I-35, and winger Remi Elie got the call Saturday afternoon. The 21-year-old was selected by the Stars in the second round of the 2013 draft and is in his second professional season. In 49 games with the AHL’s Texas Stars this year, Elie has 8 goals and 17 assists. There’s no guarantee he’ll play Sunday, but he’s an option in event of injury, illness or another trade.
3) Cracknell was injured in the final game before the bye week and had to be helped off the ice, as he couldn’t put any weight on his right leg. After that game, Ruff’s prognosis was 3-to-6 weeks; following the bye week, Ruff offered a much more optimistic estimate of 2-to-3 weeks. Saturday, Cracknell skated after practice. At this rate, he’ll be back in the lineup within a week. Truly remarkable.
4) One visiting Bruin will look awfully familiar to Stars fans: Number 42, David Backes. The veteran forward was captain of the St. Louis Blues until last summer, when he signed a five-year, $30 million contract with the Bruins. Backes and Stars captain Jamie Benn have dropped the gloves a time or two in the past, so don’t be surprised to see fireworks Sunday morning.
5) Though Backes can be the proverbial bull-in-a-china-shop at times, linemate Brad Marchand poses a greater threat to the Stars, in more ways than one. The diminutive (5-foot-9) winger scored 37 goals and 61 points in 77 games last year; he’s tallied 26 goals and 61 points in 61 games this season. Marchand often dances along the line between “feisty and frustrating” and “dirty and dangerous.” While dancing, he sometimes sticks out a leg and catches unsuspecting opponents from behind. Against a player like Marchand, the Stars must watch each other’s backs, both literally and figuratively.