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Five keys for Wild vs. Stars, Game 6

Minnesota needs Dubnyk to step up; Dallas hopes to get Sharp impact

by Dan Myers / Correspondent

ST. PAUL, Minn. -- The Dallas Stars and Minnesota Wild will play Game 6 of their Western Conference First Round series at Xcel Energy Center on Sunday (3 p.m. ET; NBC, SN, TVA Sports). The Stars lead the best-of-7 series 3-2.

Here are five keys for Game 5:

1. Who's in net?: Dallas goalie Kari Lehtonen was fantastic in Games 1 and 2, allowing one goal on 48 shots to help the Stars jump out to a 2-0 series lead. In Game 3, Lehtonen allowed four goals on 24 shots in a 5-3 loss, opening the door for Antti Niemi, who made 28 saves in a 3-2 win in Game 4.

Niemi didn't play nearly as well in Game 5 on Friday, allowing five goals on 24 shots in the Wild's 5-4 win at American Airlines Center. That could open the door for Lehtonen to again take the net in this series.

But which version of Lehtonen will show up? The one who helped steal Game 2 in a 2-1 win, or the one who struggled in the Game 3 loss?

Perhaps more important to the Stars than which goalie they will start is which version of their starter they will get, because coach Lindy Ruff expects the Wild will get their chances.

"We know that we can go there and win a hockey game," Ruff said. "We're confident with the way we've played on the road. They're going to get some opportunities. They're a good enough team they're going to get some."

Video: MIN@DAL, Gm5: Niemi shuts down Koivu with the stick

2. Man of steal: Although the Wild don't have any question as to who will start in goal, they could use the first top-notch performance in this series from goaltender Devan Dubnyk.

Despite Dubnyk's subpar 2.99 goals-against average and .892 save percentage through five games, the Wild remain alive thanks to the occasional timely save from their goaltender.

In Game 5, it was a big save in overtime on Stars defenseman Alex Goligoski shortly before the Wild won the game on a goal by Mikko Koivu.

"He brings calmness to the team. He doesn't get rattled, or if they score a goal, he comes right back out and makes a big save," Minnesota coach John Torchetti said. "The other night, when we were down 2-0 [in Game 3], he made that big blocker save when they could have went up 3-0, and we came back to win the game. That's what it's all about right there. That pretty much describes him as our goalie."

But the Wild will need more than just timely saves if they are to win this series. They will need Dubnyk to steal a game, or perhaps two, in order to advance past the top-seeded Stars.

Video: MIN@DAL, Gm5: Dubnyk shuts down Hemsky with skate

3. He's Benn good: The best player in the series for either team has been Stars captain Jamie Benn, who has at least one point in each of the five games and leads all scorers with seven points.

Benn has scored all three of his goals in the series at American Airlines Center. The Stars need Benn to continue to be his normal, dominant self; it would help if he can score at Xcel Energy Center in Game 6.

"You've got to bank on your veteran players to kind of lead the way," Ruff said. "The one thing you want to do is try to continue to play your game. If you get uptight and you start feeling the pressure, at some point in the game you won't make the play that you need to execute, and you got to relax, play the game."

Video: MIN@DAL, Gm5: Ja. Benn beats Dubnyk with nifty move

4. Looking Sharp: If there's one player Dallas needs to produce more, it's Patrick Sharp. Other than a 4:10 stretch in Game 3 when he scored two goals, Sharp has been invisible in this series. Those goals account for his two points in the five games, an especially low number for a player who haunted the Wild during playoff runs with the Chicago Blackhawks each of the past three seasons.

Sharp scored seven goals and had 15 points in 15 career Stanley Cup Playoff games against Minnesota entering the series.

"You try to put whatever's happened, good or bad, behind you as quick as you can and worry about what's coming down the road," Sharp said. "And in our case, that's a big Game 6 in a tough building against a good team, so we're excited to get on the plane, go in there and play."

Video: DAL@MIN, Gm3: Sharp beats Dubnyk for second goal

5. Stay out of the box: The only thing separating the Wild from having a chance to close out the Stars in Game 6 instead of trying to keep their season alive was the performance of their penalty kill the last time they played at Xcel Energy Center, in Game 4.

Minnesota grabbed a one-goal lead twice in that game, only to see Dallas answer back quickly with a power-play goal each time.

The Stars went 0-for-2 on the power play in Game 5 and are 0-for-4 in their two losses in the series. They are 3-for-13 in their three wins.

The Wild took too many penalties early in the series, surrendering a total of 11 power plays in Games 1 and 2; they lost each game.

But they've turned that around; Minnesota has won two of the past three in large part because it has given Dallas a total of six power plays since the start of Game 3.

It's a blueprint for success the Wild must follow if they are to force a Game 7.

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