WILD (11-11-3) at STARS (15-8-1)
TV: KSTC (HD), TXA 21 (HD)
Minnesota 4-5-1; Dallas 7-2-1
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.
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.
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."
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."
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.
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.
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.
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."