The Dallas Stars look to create some distance between themselves and one of the teams they are battling in the playoff race when they take on the Minnesota Wild tonight at Excel Energy Center in St. Paul (7 p.m. CT; FS-SW; KTCK).
The Stars (36-28-5-77 points) are in the first wild-card spot and have a three-point lead over Minnesota, which is just outside the playoffs in third place in the wild-card race. And Dallas is only two points behind St. Louis for third place in the Central Division. The Blues play at Ottawa tonight.
Although the points up for grabs tonight are big, Stars coach Jim Montgomery is trying to get the team's game in order. The Stars have won five of their last six games and allowed just three goals in the last five games, but Montgomery has seen some erosion in the team's play recently.
"We've felt that a lot of our strong points have slipped in three of the last four games, so we want to get back to outworking our opponent," Montgomery said. "One would be our compete level hasn't been at the same level prior to, and we want to get ahead of it before it continues to drop."
Video: Stars need to get back to 'outworking our opponents'
Ben Bishop gets the start in goal tonight for the Stars. Bishop has posted shutouts in his last three appearances and is on a 204:20 shutout streak (more on Bishop's impressive run in net below).
The Stars will make a couple of lineup changes for tonight. Brett Ritchie is back in at forward after sitting out the last game as a scratch, and Valeri Nichushkin will come out. On defense, Taylor Fedun comes back in after being scratched Tuesday in Buffalo, and Jamie Oleksiak will sit tonight.
Montgomery will make a couple of changes to his forward lines. The top line of Roope Hintz, Tyler Seguin, and Alexander Radulov will stay intact as will the line of Mattias Janmark, Radek Faksa, and Blake Comeau. As for the changes, Jason Dickinson will center a line with Jamie Benn on the left wing and Joel L'Esperance on the right and Jason Spezza will center Andrew Cogliano and Ritchie.
The defense pairs will be Esa Lindell-John Klingberg, Miro-Heiskanen-Roman Polak, and Fedun-Ben Lovejoy.
Bish by the numbers
Bishop comes into Thursday with a shutout streak of 204:20, second longest in franchise history to Ed Belfour's run of 219:26 set in Nov. 2000. Bishop has stopped 106 straight shots during his shutout streak including 94 during the three straight shutouts. The last goal he allowed was in the second period of Dallas' 4-1 win over St. Louis on Mar. 2.
Bishop is 8-2-0 in his last 10 starts with a 1.21 goals-against average and a .963 save percentage, stopping 311 of 323 shots.
Here is where Bishop ranks this season in some key statistical categories:
2.08 goals-against average (2nd)
.932 save percentage (1st)
Six shutouts (T-2nd)
.877 high-danger save percentage (1st)
27.68 goals saved above average (2nd)
.667 quality starts (2nd)
Stats and ranks come from the NHL, naturalstattrick.com, and hockeyreference.com.
Video: DAL@BUF: Bishop turns in third consecutive shutout
Opposition watch: Minnesota Wild
The Wild (33-29-8-74 points) are coming off a 3-0 loss to the San Jose Sharks on Monday in St. Paul. It was the fourth loss in the last five games (1-2-2) for the Wild, who have dropped out of a playoff spot. They come into tonight's game in third place in the wild-card race, one point behind Arizona, which holds the second wild-card spot, and three points behind the Stars.
Forward Luke Kunin will return tonight after missing two games with an upper-body injury. Forward Joel Eriksson Ek is out with a lower-body injury.
Devan Dubnyk is the expected starter in goal tonight for the Wild.
The Stars are 12-7-1-25 points since the All-Star break.
The Wild are 7-8-5-19 points since the All-Star break.
The Stars are 15-17-3 on the road.
The Wild are 14-14-6 at home.
The Stars have won three straight on the road and are 4-1-0 in their last five away from home.
The Wild are 1-5-3 in their last nine at home.
The Stars are 11-8-2 vs. the Central Division.
The Wild are 11-6-4 vs. the Central Division.
The Stars are 15-for-15 on the penalty kill over their past five games.
The Wild are 0-for-18 on the power play over their past six games.
Who: Dallas Stars at Minnesota Wild
Where: Xcel Energy Center
When: 7 p.m.
TV: Fox Sports Southwest
Radio: The Ticket 1310-AM/96.7-FM
Stars projected lineup
Roope Hintz - Tyler Seguin - Alexander Radulov
Jamie Benn - Jason Dickinson - Joel L'Esperance
Mattias Janmark - Radek Faksa - Blake Comeau
Andrew Cogliano - Jason Spezza - Brett Ritchie
Esa Lindell - John Klingberg
Miro Heiskanen - Roman Polak
Taylor Fedun - Ben Lovejoy
Scratched: Jamie Oleksiak, Julius Honka, Valeri Nichushkin
Injured: Mats Zuccarello (broken arm), Tyler Pitlick (wrist surgery), Martin Hanzal (back), Marc Methot (knee surgery), Stephen Johns (post-traumatic headaches)
Wild projected lineup
Zach Parise - Erick Staal - Kevin Fiala
Jason Zucker - Luke Kunin - Ryan Donato
Jordan Greenway - Victor Rask - Pontus Aberg
Marcus Foligno - Eric Fehr - J.T. Brown
Ryan Suter - Jared Spurgeon
Jonas Brodin - Brad Hunt
Greg Pateryn - Nick Seeler
Scratched: Anthony Bitetto
Injured: Mikko Koivu (knee), Matt Dumba (ruptured right pectoral muscle), Joel Eriksson Ek (lower body)
This story was not subject to the approval of the National Hockey League or Dallas Stars Hockey Club.
Mark Stepneski has covered the Stars for DallasStars.com since 2012. Follow him on Twitter @StarsInsideEdge.