SUNRISE (CBSMiami/AP) – The Florida Panthers are fighting for their playoff lives and will be for the rest of the season.
The Dallas Stars aren’t really in the Western Conference playoff picture, but they still have plenty of motivation for this matchup with the Panthers.
Now they’ll be facing a former player making his season debut due to extraordinary circumstances.
Dan Ellis will start in goal for the Panthers on Thursday night against the visiting Stars, who lost superstar Tyler Seguin the last time these teams met.
Dallas (28-26-10) won 2-0 over Florida on Feb. 13, but no one was celebrating afterward. That’s because three players got hurt, with Seguin the most notable one.
Seguin, who has 29 goals and 59 points, suffered a severe right knee injury after being checked by defenseman Dmitry Kulikov in the third period. Stars coach Lindy Ruff called the play “a dirty shot.”
Kulikov, assessed a major penalty for clipping and a game misconduct, was suspended four games for the incident.
The Stars have gone 2-5-2 since losing Seguin to fall out of playoff contention.
Thursday’s game comes exactly one year after Dallas traded Ellis to Florida for Tim Thomas. Ellis, recalled from the minors Wednesday, allowed 25 goals in losing all five starts last season for the Panthers.
“I’ll go out there and try to read the game the way I’m capable of and try to make the saves I need to in order to help us win,” Ellis told the Panthers’ official Twitter account.
Ellis began his career in 2003-04 with Dallas and made one start. He went 5-6-0 with a 3.04 goals-against average in 14 games – 11 starts – with the Stars last season.
Florida (28-23-13) had little choice but to call up the veteran because of injuries to Roberto Luongo and Al Montoya that proved to be costly in Tuesday’s 3-2 home loss to Toronto.
Luongo started and got hurt with Montoya replacing him. The backup suffered a groin injury that forced Luongo to change out of street clothes back into uniform. Florida, which blew a third-period lead, considered inserting goalie coach Robb Tallas or forward Derek MacKenzie between the pipes.
“We’re playing a pretty good game, and all of a sudden, boom, boom, you lose two goalies real quick,” coach Gerard Gallant said. “Fortunately for us, both of them were able to return and play some of the game, and Robbie didn’t have to go in there.”
Florida remained two points behind Boston for the Eastern Conference’s final wild-card berth. The Panthers have played two more games.
“It was unfortunate we let this one slip away,” said center Brandon Pirri, who has three goals in his last three games. “These are two big points we needed.”
Dallas ended an 0-4-2 slide with Tuesday’s 3-2 overtime victory over the New York Islanders on Cody Eakin’s winner. The Stars were stunned when they conceded the tying goal with two seconds left in the third period.
“It’s part of that next step to get over that hurdle where you deal with adversity and you fight even harder because we’ve dealt with a lot in this building,” Ruff said.
Kari Lehtonen figures to start after he had 37 saves for his fourth shutout in last month’s meeting.
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