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Stars face big test tonight in Wild

Antti Niemi gets the start in goal as Stars face one of the league's hottest teams

by Mark Stepneski @StarsInsideEdge / Inside Edge

The Dallas Stars will face a good test tonight when they take on the Minnesota Wild at American Airlines Center. The Wild come into the game on an impressive 15-1-1 run over their past 17 games. 

"They've been on a good roll, and we're looking at it as a big test. And they are a division rival," said Stars forward Devin Shore. "We just want to keep building on the good things we did the last game and make some tweaks to the things we need to do better."

One of the things the Stars (18-17-8) did well the last game - Thursday's 5-2 win over Detroit - was get people and pucks to the net to score their goals. They scored two goals off tip-ins and another off a rebound. Another goal deflected in off traffic.

The Wild will present a challenge. They are one of the top defensive teams in the league, allowing just 2.10 goals per game. They can surrender a lot of shots, but not a lot of quality chances.

"It's going to be a tough game inside the offensive zone to get quality opportunities. But we're going to have to find a way to get inside," said Stars coach Lindy Ruff. "It's going to be tough to get the Grade-A, but we're going to have to fight for the second opportunities."

"We have to do our best to make it tough on them, make it tough for their goalie to see shots coming through," Shore said. "We have to take care of our end, too, because we know they aren't going to give up to many chances. We know we have the group in this room to compete, we just have to execute."

Video: Stars slowly finding their offense

Special teams could be key tonight. The Wild's power play has been hot lately, scoring in the past five games and cashing in on 6 of 17 opportunities. The Stars have allowed power-play goals in six straight games and are 10-20 on the penalty kill during that stretch.

"It's important we stay out of the penalty box, not give them a lot of looks," Ruff said. "In any game, if our discipline is good, it gives us a better chance."

The Stars are expected to go with the same lineup as Thursday's game. Antti Niemi was the first goaltender off the ice, so he is expected to make his third start in goal. He was outstanding in Thursday's win over the Red Wings, stopping 31 of 33 shots. Niemi is 8-3-2 at home this season with a 2.14 goals-against average and .932 save percentage.

There were no line rushes at this morning's skate, but the Stars probably will go with the same lines and defense pairings as last game. Adam Cracknell and Curtis McKenzie skated late, so they are the expected scratches. Ruff also said the Stars are expected to recall Patrik Nemeth from his conditioning assignment in the AHL. Nemeth will give the Stars seven defensemen for the upcoming road trip.

Wild Watch

Darcy Kuemper is expected to get the start in goal tonight for the Wild (26-9-5). That would give Devan Dubnyk the start Sunday when the Wild play at Chicago. Kuemper is 4-2-2 this season with a 3.21 goals-against average and .902 save percentage. Kuemper faced the Stars earlier this season, stopping 29 of 32 shots in the Wild's 3-2 overtime loss at American Airlines Center.

Tonight's Game

Who: Minnesota Wild at Dallas Stars
Where: American Airlines Center
When: 7:00 p.m.
TV: Fox Sports Southwest
Radio: The Ticket 1310 AM/96.7 FM

Stars Projected Lineup

Jamie Benn - Tyler Seguin - Patrick Eaves
Antoine Roussel - Cody Eakin - Jason Spezza
Lauri Korpikoski - Radek Faksa - Patrick Sharp
Jiri Hudler - Devin Shore - Brett Ritchie

Esa Lindell - John Klingberg
Dan Hamhuis - Jordie Benn
Johnny Oduya - Stephen Johns

Antti Niemi
Kari Lehtonen

Scratched: Curtis McKenzie, Adam Cracknell, Patrik Nemeth
Injured: Jamie Oleksiak (hand), Ales Hemsky (hip), Mattias Janmark (knee)

Wild Projected Lineup

Zach Parise - Eric Staal - Charlie Coyle
Jason Zucker - Mikko Koivu - Mikael Granlund
Nino Niederreiter - Erik Haula - Jason Pominville
Chris Stewart - Tyler Graovac - Jordan Schroeder

Ryan Suter - Jared Spurgeon
Jonas Brodin - Matt Dumba
Marco Scandella - Christian Folin

Darcy Kuemper
Devan Dubnyk

Scratched: Nate Prosser, Kurtis Gabriel
Injured: Victor Bartley (arm)

This story was not subject to approval of the National Hockey League or Dallas Stars Hockey Club. Mark Stepneski is an independent writer whose posts on DallasStars.com reflect his own opinions and do not represent official statements from the Dallas Stars. You can follow Mark on Twitter @StarsInsideEdge.

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