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Wild welcome in Stars on Hockey Day Minnesota

by Dan Myers

STARS (21-19-7) at WILD (26-19-5)

TV: TXA 21, FS-N

Last 10: Dallas 2-7-1; Minnesota 6-4-0

Season series: This is the second of four games between the new Central Division rivals. Matt Cooke had a goal and an assist and Josh Harding made 18 saves as the Minnesota Wild beat the Dallas Stars 5-1 on Oct. 18.

Big story: Minnesota's current team will take on Minnesota's former team on the unofficial state holiday: Hockey Day Minnesota. The 2014 event will feature several high school games played on historic Handke Pit in Elk River, Minn., the top-ranked University of Minnesota men’s team taking on Ohio State and the Wild game all televised on the team's broadcast partner, Fox Sports North. This is the eighth annual Hockey Day Minnesota event.

Team Scope:

Stars: How quickly things can change in the NHL. On New Year's Day, the Stars had 47 points, two ahead of the Wild in the standings with three games in hand. Dallas had won six of 10 and earned points in two others, while the Wild were losers of six straight games. Fast forward 18 days and the Stars are likely facing a must-win scenario. Dallas still has three games in hand, but the Stars enter Saturday eight points behind the Wild in the Central Division after losing seven of eight games to start 2014.

"We need to improve on certain aspects of the game, try and get a little more battle in our game. Sometimes you just fall a little short," forward Vernon Fiddler said Thursday after a 4-2 loss to the Boston Bruins. "We're giving up too many odd-man rushes. Those aren't going to win you many hockey games."

Wild: For Minnesota, it's seemingly a new hero every night. That's good, because with forwards Zach Parise and Mikko Koivu, goalie Josh Harding and defenseman Jared Spurgeon out with injuries, the Wild are missing a lot of firepower. In a 4-1 win against the Edmonton Oilers on Thursday, it was defenseman Nate Prosser's turn in the spotlight. With Spurgeon out, Prosser has gone from press box regular to playing almost 20 minutes a night. Prosser has a goal and an assist and is a plus-7 in Minnesota's past five games.

"He's an unbelievable professional," coach Mike Yeo said. "It wasn't easy to scratch him. He's a guy that has made the absolute most of his opportunity."

Who's hot: Dallas forwards Jamie Benn and Erik Cole have scored goals in consecutive games, helping fill the scoring void of Tyler Seguin, who has now gone seven games without a goal. Benn is second on the team with 17 goals and 40 points while Cole is third in both categories with 13 and 23, respectively. … Playing on a line with Jason Zucker, Charlie Coyle and Dany Heatley have five points apiece over their last five games. For much of the new year, that line has been Minnesota's best.

Injury report: Dallas defensemen Aaron Rome (lower body) and Stephane Robidas (broken leg) are out. … For Minnesota, Spurgeon (leg), Koivu (ankle), and Harding (illness) are out. Parise (fractured left foot) has been practicing this week but is likely to sit out Saturday.

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