Last 10: Minnesota 4-5-1; Dallas 7-2-1
Season series: First of four meetings this season. Minnesota won the opening matchup on the 2009-10 schedule, but Dallas took three straight after that, including a 4-3 shootout victory in the most recent meeting on April 10. Wild captain Mikko Koivu led all scorers with 4 goals. Loui Eriksson's 3 goals paced the Stars.
Big story: A total of three points separates five teams -- welcome to the Pacific Division, where a lengthy winning streak can easily vault a team from last into first. Dallas is currently on a five-game run, giving it a two-point lead over Phoenix and Anaheim, both of which had significant tears of their own earlier in the season to claim at least a share of the top spot. Los Angeles and San Jose sit right behind.
Wild: Entering play Saturday, four points separate Minnesota -- which finds itself smack in the middle of the Northwest Division -- from a Western Conference playoff berth. In other words, things could be a lot worse considering the Wild have lost six of their last seven games. They've currently dropped four straight, but managed a point out of a 3-2 shootout loss to the Flames on Friday. Pierre-Marc Bouchard scored in just his second game back after a lengthy concussion-related absence, and Martin Havlat managed the game-tying goal in the third period.
"Without question I believe there is a mental issue going on as far as creating and frustration," coach Todd Richards said. "You can see it on some guys and it's not a good emotion. It's very draining."
Stars: If Dallas hadn't already garnered the rest of the NHL's attention, it's safe to say Thursday's 2-1 win over Eastern Conference powerhouse Washington did the trick. The Stars held the high-flying Capitals' offense to just Mike Knuble's power-play goal midway through the third period. That tied the score, but just 20 seconds later Brandon Segal answered with the game-winner and Andrew Raycroft finished off a 37-save performance to secure the two points.
"It's been a little bit of everything," captain Brenden Morrow said in regards to this stretch of great play. "Goaltending, obviously, has been sharp. When we needed a goal tonight, we got one on special teams (a second-period power-play goal by Mike Ribeiro). Penalty killing did a pretty good job -- they got one, but that's a pretty potent power play and we did a pretty good job staying disciplined, staying out of the penalty box, keep moving our feet."
Who's hot: Ribeiro has 2 goals and 3 assists during a five-game points streak for the Stars. Kari Lehtonen has allowed only four goals and has a .956 save percentage in winning his last three starts. … Havlat leads the Wild with 25 points and has 6 goals and 13 assists in his last 15 games.
Injury report: After getting Bouchard back, Minnesota also expects forward Chuck Kobasew to return to the lineup Saturday after missing 14 games due to a groin injury and personal matter. Still out are defenseman Clayton Stoner (upper body) and forward Guillaume Latendresse (sports hernia/hip). … Dallas defenseman Mark Fistric (lower body) is on injured reserve.
Stat pack: Wild goalie Niklas Backstrom had a strong game against the Flames, stopping 30 shots, but has now lost 10 of his last 11 shootouts. … Nine different players have goals and 10 have assists during the Stars' winning streak.
Puck drop: Dropping a 5-1 decision in Toronto on Nov. 22 apparently lit a spark under the Dallas players. It's the last time the team lost.
"We didn't play a very good game in Toronto. We had no illusions about that game," coach Marc Crawford said. "But we've been playing pretty good for the better part of the month. I think that's what's happening now. We're building confidence in our group. We understand how we have to play. If you do a lot of those simple things well, the cumulative effect for your club is that you put a lot of equations in your favor. I feel like we're doing that."