Stars G Bishop returns to face struggling Canucks

A funny thing has happened after the Dallas Stars ran into injury troubles.

They have managed to keep pace in the Western Conference playoff race. Now, the Stars (13-10-3) have a chance to improve their fortunes as top goaltender Ben Bishop returns from injury Saturday in Vancouver against the Canucks (11-14-3).

“The best part of our game has been our goaltending,” Dallas coach Jim Montgomery told reporters after a practice Friday. “It doesn’t matter which one (Bishop or Anton Khudobin) is in nets. They always give us an opportunity. When Bish is in there, it’s a different feeling behind the bench. He gives us more control, positioning, poise and, obviously, the puckhandling is really good.”

Bishop sports an 8-5-1 record, .923 save percentage, 2.33 goals-against average and two shutouts this season. He has missed the past five games with an undisclosed lower-body injury. Montgomery confirmed that he will start in goal against the Canucks.

Perhaps not coincidentally, the Stars have only two wins in the past six games as Khudobin has carried most of the netminding load. Temporary backup Landon Bow was returned to the Texas Stars of the AHL on Friday.

Khudobin earned praise from Montgomery for his competitiveness. The Stars have lost four of their past six games, but Dallas currently sits — just barely — above the playoff bar.

That’s quite a feat considering that the Stars have been playing without top defensemen John Klingberg (hand) and Marc Methot (knee) — as well as fellow rearguards Stephen Johns (neck/headaches) and Connor Carrick (foot).

Only one of the six defensemen now playing regularly, Esa Lindell, 24, toiled with Dallas last season.

Most of the defense minutes have been logged by an unlikely mix of other teams’ castoffs — Joe Hanley, 27; Taylor Fedun, 30, and Roman Polak, 32 — and young prospects Miro Heiskanen, 19, who is viewed as a rookie of the year candidate, and Gavin Bayreuther, 24.

“We’ve got a lot of call-ups here, and we’re a bunch of underdogs, to be honest — and we’re playing our hearts out,” Bayreuther, who began the season in the AHL, told the team’s website.

Montgomery said the veterans and youngsters on the blue line have inspired the rest of the Stars.

“They’re saving our season — there’s no other way to say it,” said Montgomery.

The Stars are coming off an overtime win in Calgary on Wednesday. Meanwhile the struggling Canucks hope to rebound from what coach Travis Green called a “disheartening” home-ice loss Thursday to Vegas. The Golden Knights prevailed 4-3 on a shorthanded goal by William Karlsson after a blatant turnover — and lack of effort — by the Canucks in the final six and a half minutes.

Green expressed strong disappointment after the game Thursday. But the coach, whose injury-depleted club has only one win in 11 games, tried to put a positive spin on the result Friday, contending he “felt great” about his team’s showing.

“I’d take (Thursday) night’s game 82 times and I’d be really happy,” he said. “And I know our record would be a lot better than a lot of people thought we’d be at the start of the year. If (Thursday) night’s game is there every night, we’re definitely making a lot of improvements.”

The injury-riddled Canucks got some good news Friday as they was learned top defenseman Alex Edler will be able to play Saturday after receiving a cut in the face and going through the concussion protocol Thursday. Edler took part in practice and told reporters he is good to play against the Stars.

“Five guys (were) out again (Thursday) night, so it was nice not to add Edler to the list,” said Green.