Coyotes face Stars without D Ekman-Larsson

DALLAS — The Arizona Coyotes will be missing star defenseman Oliver Ekman-Larsson when they visit the Dallas Stars on Tuesday night at American Airlines Center.

Ekman-Larsson was granted a leave of absence from the Coyotes on Monday after his mother passed away following a lengthy battle with cancer. Ekman-Larsson will miss the Coyotes’ final three games.

“This has been a very difficult year for me personally,” Ekman-Larsson said in a press release. “I’d like to thank the Coyotes’ organization and all of my teammates for their incredible support all season long. I’m sorry that I’ll miss our last three games, but family comes first.”

Ekman-Larsson finished the season with 12 goals and 27 assists in 79 games.

Tuesday’s game will be nothing more than a showcase for younger players on struggling teams.

The Stars have been one of the NHL’s biggest disappointments this season and are going to miss the playoffs after preseason hype as a potential Stanley Cup contender.

During the past three weeks, the Stars have been opening up opportunities for younger players who might be a part of the NHL roster next season. Remi Elie, Jason Dickinson, Julius Honka and Gemel Smith are expected to spend the rest of the season in the NHL after playing in the AHL for most of the year.

Smith has been one of the most impressive young players lately and scored his third goal of the season on Sunday.

“(Smith) played well, he played well when he was here before and he played well (Sunday),” Stars coach Lindy Ruff said. “We got guys that are trying hard and playing hard.”

The Coyotes have been out of the playoffs for a while and have the NHL’s second worst record, but they’ve won back-to-back games and could catch the Vancouver Canucks and New Jersey Devils in the standings with a victory.

On Sunday, the Coyotes played spoiler in a 2-1 win over the Los Angeles Kings and helped the Nashville Predators clinch the final playoff spot in the Western Conference.

“I think it was some motivation, when you have something to play for at this time of year, when you are out of the playoffs,” Coyotes goalie Mike Smith said after the game. “I think it was definitely a game we knew they were going to come hard, and they are on their last life.”

The Stars are coming off a five-game road trip that ended with a 6-3 loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning on Sunday. Dallas dropped the final four games after opening the trip with a 2-1 overtime win over the New Jersey Devils on March 26.

Dallas has a three-game homestand to end the season and will host Nashville and the Colorado Avalanche later this week.