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Reeling Stars return home to face Wild

by Sean McCullen

WILD (27-19-5) at STARS (21-20-8)


Last 10: Minnesota 7-3-0; Dallas 1-8-1

Season series: This is the third of four games between the Minnesota Wild and Dallas Stars. The Wild won the first two games, including a 3-2 overtime win Saturday night in St. Paul.

Big story: Dallas entered 2014 as one of the hottest teams in the NHL, going 5-0-2 over its final seven games in December. But the Stars have been one of the League's worst teams in January, having been outscored 39-22 while going 1-8-1.

Minnesota has seemingly righted its ship after slumping to close out 2013. The Wild lost six straight in regulation at the end of December, but they won four in a row to start 2014 and three of four since the Colorado Avalanche snapped that winning streak Jan. 11.

A win against Minnesota would go a long way toward keeping the Stars in the playoff hunt. They enter the game Tuesday in sixth place in the Central Division, nine points behind the Wild, who are fourth in the division and holding onto the final wild card spot in the Western Conference.

Team Scope:

Wild: Minnesota has won two games in a row and three of four. Defenseman Nate Prosser scored the game-winning goal in overtime against Dallas on Saturday. It was the second straight game the Elk River, Minn., native scored the game-winner; his goal Thursday in a 4-1 win against the Edmonton Oilers was his second in 92 NHL games and first since 2011-12.

If Prosser was the feel-good story of the game, goalie Darcy Kuemper was its star. Making his 13th career start, Kuemper stopped 33 of 35 shots to earn his fourth win this season (4-2-0) since being called up from Iowa of the American Hockey League.

Kuemper, pressed into action with No. 1 goalie Josh Harding receiving treatment for multiple sclerosis and backup Niklas Backstrom out with a lower-body injury, has a 2.13 goals-against average and .922 save percentage in seven appearances this season.

"Sometimes your third goalie is called upon to back up and maybe play a game here or there, but certainly he's been thrown into more of a starting role for us, and he's taken that opportunity … good for him and good for us," coach Mike Yeo said at practice Monday. "I just read a quote the other day – 'Opportunities multiply as they are seized' – and he's living by that right now. We're giving him more opportunity because he' taking advantage of those opportunities.

"I think we're very fortunate to have a guy come in and perform at the level he's played at and do it with confidence."

Yeo expects Backstrom back for practice Wednesday.

Stars: Dallas lost 4-1 to the Nashville Predators on Monday. It was the Stars' third loss in a row.

"There's nothing you can do," coach Lindy Ruff said. "But you've got to push through it. I told them, 'Gonna play the guys and go up on your toes and go after it and double-shift.' I started double-shifting lines in the second period. This is on me to get the team through this. I look at myself first, and we've got to perform a little bit better. We've got some defensemen, I thought, didn't move the puck as crisp as they should."

The Stars return home for their next five games. Their only win this month has come against the Oilers, who have the worst record in the West.

Rookie right wing Valeri Nichushkin is expected back in the lineup after being a healthy scratch the past two games.

Who's hot: Wild center Charlie Coyle has recorded at least a point in four of five games (two goals, four assists). Left wing Jason Zucker has two goals and two assists in his past four games. … Stars center Cody Eakin has three goals and an assist the past six games. Left wing Erik Cole has two goals in the past four.

Injury report: In addition to Harding and Backstrom, the Wild will be without defenseman Jared Spurgeon (foot) and forwards Mikko Koivu (ankle) and Zach Parise (fractured left foot), all of whom are on injured reserve. Parise, who has not played since Dec. 22, skated with the team Saturday and could possibly return later this week. . … Stars defenseman Stephane Robidas (broken leg) is on IR.

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