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Game Day Preview #82, Dallas Stars @ Los Angeles Kings

Playoff positioning is at stake tonight as the Kings wrap up the regular season.

Dallas Stars v Los Angeles Kings Photo by Harry How/Getty Images

Preview: Dallas Stars (41-32-8) @ Los Angeles Kings (45-28-8)

Game Time: 7:30 PM, NHLN/FS-W

Game eighty-two. It’s pretty nice to be going into this one knowing that there’s going to be more meaningful hockey on the way. While tonight’s game has implications for seeding purposes — one Vegas blog has essentially an LSAT-quality logic game to work out their possible first-round matchups — it’s nice to go into this one with zero anxiety.

The Dallas Stars are playing for pride tonight, and while they’re already eliminated, thanks largely to a disastrous recent road trip and injuries to key players, they were close, and they can still be a dangerous team when everything’s clicking. That didn’t happen last night in Anaheim, where sloppy play led to a 5-3 defeat to the Ducks.

And while this would be a perfect time for the Stars to see what some of their younger players have to offer — Stars fans are clamoring for Julius Honka in particular to get a longer leash on the blue line — coach Ken Hitchcock is standing pat with the lineup and the system he’s been using all year.

The offense for the Stars lives and dies with Jamie Benn (76 points), Tyler Seguin (77 points and a career high 40 goals), and Alexander Radulov (69 points and a new career high in goals, assists, and points). John Klingberg leads the defense with 66 points, which is second in the league for defensemen, just one point behind Washington’s John Carlson. The problem is everyone outside of that grouping has failed to truly step up in scoring. The gap between Klingberg, fourth in scoring, and Mattias Janmark, fifth, is a whopping 32 points. Depth scoring has dried up for the Stars.

In goal for the Stars tonight is Kari Lehtonen, appearing in most likely his final game in a Stars uniform, and possibly his final game in the NHL. The 34-year old goalie will be a free agent and there have been no indications that he’ll be returning next year.

The Kings, meanwhile, have been ending their season the right way — at least, if you look at the results. Their games recently have been a microcosm of the entire season: about 40 minutes of sloppy play and 20 minutes of domination. They’ve been coming out in the win column, which is all that matters at the end of the day, but this is their last chance to fine tune their team play and clean things up before they get thrown headfirst into the playoffs.

All of the sick or injured players are still out; the recently recalled Oscar Fantenberg gets another shot at the NHL tonight as he draws into the game over Kevin Gravel and rookie Daniel Brickley. Fantenberg took on a top pairing role during his time in Ontario and was able to find a level of consistency in his game that he struggled with in the NHL. He’s slated to play alongside Drew Doughty, so, welcome back to the NHL, I guess, here’s your first pairing minutes.

Brickley acquitted himself well in his debut, playing just over ten minutes and getting his first NHL point, a secondary assist on Tobias Rieder’s goal. His first taste of NHL hockey showed that he still has some work to do in the details of his game, but for being thrust into game action with just 15 minutes’ warning, he was a pleasant surprise. He’s not eligible to play in the playoffs, so it makes sense to go into game 82 with a lineup closer to that which would be used in the post-season. With Brickley’s family in attendance, including his father, who has been diagnosed with cancer, giving him the nod was a nice moment, and a good look at someone who could challenge for a spot on the blue line next season.

With the Kings’ best players having career years — Dustin Brown, with a little luck, could hit 30 goals tonight — it looks like the team is clicking at exactly the right time. Three- and four-goal nights don’t grow on trees, of course, and play is going to get tighter in the playoffs, but going into the end of the season on a positive note is something to look forward to.

Jonathan Quick starts. Keep an eye on Dallas’ favorite agitator, Antoine Roussel.

One more thing before we go — all of our thoughts are with Humboldt, Saskatchewan, and the friends, family, loved ones, and all affected by the terrible accident that claimed fifteen lives from the Humboldt Broncos Junior A team. Everyone talks about how hockey is a community, and times like this really show how that community comes together. A fund for the families has been set up; the Kings have already pledged to donate tonight’s 50/50 profits to the fund, in addition to individual donations from the players themselves. The fund is linked in the tweet below.

Projected Line Combinations

Los Angeles Kings

Pearson - Kopitar - Brown
Rieder - Carter - Toffoli
Clifford - Kempe - Lewis
Thompson - Amadio - Andreoff

Fantenberg - Doughty
Martinez - Folin
Phaneuf - LaDue

Quick
(Campbell)

Dallas Stars

Benn - Seguin - Radulov
Janmark - Spezza - Smith
Roussel - Faksa - Pitlick
Elie - Shore - Ritchie

Methot - Klingberg
Lindell - Honka
Hamhuis - Pateryn

Lehtonen
(McKenna)

Opposing Preview: Defending Big D