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Facing Stars Offense, Wild Readies For Difficult Task

by Evan Sporer / Minnesota Wild

The Minnesota Wild likes to play fast, and thinks that, when it does so, it can be successful.

Opposite the Wild in its first round playoff series will be the Dallas Stars, the NHL's highest-scoring team, and a transition goal waiting to happen.

"It’s crazy," Matt Dumba said. "They have a very high-octane offense. We’re aware of that. We’re going to have to take time and space away from them so they don’t make plays. Have to play extra tight. We’re going to defend with a lot of detail, good sticks, boxing out hard and take away time and space so they don’t have their push."

The Wild has been stressing re-committing to the small details of its game, reclaiming the neutral zone, turning fewer pucks over, and not putting itself in a position where the Stars or any team can capitalize on its mistakes.

"They've got some great scorers, some good leadership, some D that are very active, a power play that's very potent, and all the things that we talk about night-in, night-out, we have to make sure that we're dialed in on it, and getting back to it," interim Head Coach John Torchetti said. "We played Chicago pretty tight, and they're just like them offensively, so we have to commit to the defensive side of the puck."

Leading that charge for the Stars are forwards Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin. Benn, the NHL's second-leading point-getter this season, and Seguin, one of the league's most dynamic offensive talents, combined for five goals and 11 assists in the five games against Minnesota this season.

"They're probably the best one-two in the league," Devan Dubnyk said. "Can probably argue Chicago's pair there isn't so bad, either. But they're just guys that you have to be aware of, especially in the playoffs, you just don't want to forget when they're on the ice, and give them too much open ice, or give them too many open opportunities because they don’t miss very often."

No matter the situation — even strength or on the penalty kill — the Wild said it needs to be cognizant of when those key players are on the ice.

"You have to make sure you know who you're on the ice against," Torchetti said. "I'm sure they're going to look for different matchups against us, and we have to be really detailed, making sure we put the puck into good spots if we do make changes or matchups against them.

"We'll know after the first five minutes what we're looking for, and we'll adjust from there."

Since Torchetti took over as the Wild's coach in February, he's deployed his third line of Erik Haula, Nino Niederreiter, and Jason Pominville against the opposition's top scoring line.

Haula did not practice with the Wild, and is day-to-day with an undisclosed injury. Zach Parise, who missed the Wild's season finale on Saturday against the Calgary Flames, also remains day-to-day, and also did not practice on Sunday.

"It's a good possibility that we're going to play that way, but we haven't discussed that yet," Niederreiter said of potentially matching up against Dallas' top line. "The biggest thing is we really have to focus on us, and our game."

There's also a balance to be had for the Wild: The Stars had the NHL's fifth-best power play this season at 22.1 percent. With Benn and Seguin on its top unit, along with defenseman John Klingberg and forward Jason Spezza, it's a pick-your-poison situation.

Benn was tied for second in the NHL this season with 17 power play goals. The Wild wants to know where he is at all times, likewise with Seguin, but not overcompensate for the two.

"You look at their personnel, and their tendencies, and we'll try to take some things away that maybe those guys like to do," Ryan Carter said. "But you can't overplay it; you can't over-adjust. You still have to be honest. They do have high-end talent, and they'll make you pay for it."

In the Wild's five regular season games against the Dallas Stars, it was mostly Mikko Koivu's line — with whomever was on his wings — that matched up against Benn and Seguin. Koivu played over 31 even-strength minutes against Seguin, and just under 31 against Benn. With the duo on the ice together, Koivu was on for over 25 minutes.

But the Wild last played the Stars Feb. 9, three games before Torchetti took over and established the shutdown line.

"You get to know the opponents more and more, and you're always going to watch a lot of video," Niederreiter said. "It's all about the details in playoff hockey. Those things are going to make the difference, so we have to make sure that we really prepare for it."

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