Season Series: Second of four meetings between the Wild and the franchise that was formerly the Minnesota North Stars. A four-goal second period led the Wild to a 5-2 win on Jan. 21 at Xcel Energy Center. Cal Clutterbuck, Chad Rau and Kyle Brodziak all scored in a 59-second span, with Rau's goal holding up as the game-winner in his NHL debut.
Big Story: This is the second straight game eighth-place Minnesota will play against a team directly behind it in the standings and challenging for that final Western Conference playoff spot. The Wild just disposed of the Avalanche on Thursday in Colorado.
Wild: It's been an oftentimes difficult past six weeks for Minnesota, which led the overall NHL standings as late as the week before Christmas but is now struggling just to maintain playoff positioning. The Wild could have fallen into ninth with a loss to the Avalanche, but thanks to a goal by defenseman Greg Zanon six minutes into the game and a flawless, 37-save performance by Niklas Backstrom, they escaped the Pepsi Center with a 1-0 victory and now lead both the Avs and Stars by three points.
"Right now, the way the hunt is, it's playoffs right now for us," Zanon said. "If we want to be in the playoffs, we're going to have to play like it's do-or-die every night."
Stars: Looking to keep pace with Minnesota in the standings, Dallas faced a tough road game in San Jose on Thursday and came out on the losing end of a 5-2 score. The Sharks built a 2-0 lead after one period, and Steve Ott's power-play goal midway through the second to get the Stars back in the game was quickly answered by two more scores from the Sharks to essentially seal the outcome. Jamie Benn added a goal in the third, but by then it was a matter of too little, too late.
"They're a great hockey club over there," Ott said. "They're well-built. But it gives us no excuse to not be a competitive team against them. They've got a lot of skill. We've got a lot of work ethic. For us, we need to find a way to match up. Hopefully the next three we turn the tide and we'll continue to focus on competing again from there."
Who's Hot: Two members of the Wild extended points streaks by assisting on Zanon's goal. Dany Heatley now has 4 goals and 4 assists during a four-game streak, while Brodziak has 2 goals and 4 assists during a five-game streak. Backstrom has won consecutive starts, stopping 61 of 63 shots (.968 save percentage). … Benn has 2 goals and 2 assists in the Stars' last two games, while Ott has 1 goal and 3 assists over the same span.
Injury Report: Minnesota forwards Guillaume Latendresse (post-concussion symptoms), Jarod Palmer (upper body), Pierre-Marc Bouchard (concussion/groin) and Mikko Koivu (shoulder) are on injured reserve.
Stat Pack: The Wild blocked 26 shots against the Avalanche and rank third in the League in that category. … The Stars are one of four teams left this season that haven't lost a game when leading after two periods, joining the Capitals and last year's Stanley Cup finalists, the Bruins and Canucks.
Puck Drop: "He [Backstrom] said right there he'd like to be that guy [to get the majority of the starts], and he's obviously going to get another chance in Dallas," Minnesota coach Mike Yeo said in the Minneapolis Star Tribune about his goaltender's performance against Colorado. "I thought he was in control all night. He was seeing pucks and he was controlling his rebounds. He never looked in trouble.
"There were plays that could have developed into secondary opportunities, and he just killed the play. When you have a goalie playing like that, it brings confidence to the group."