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If Leading, Wild Knows It Can't Sit Back And Protect

by Evan Sporer / Minnesota Wild

DALLAS -- The Minnesota Wild isn’t thinking about its previous losses against the Dallas Stars this season, two of which came when the Wild held leads of two or more goals.

Instead what Minnesota is thinking about is what it might take to close its latest game against the Stars on Saturday.

"I'm a believer in that you have to keep playing," Zach Parise said. "I'm not a believer in just sitting back and trying to protect. There's a time and a place, but against these guys with their good players, you have to keep going at them and make them play in their own zone."

Most recently, the Wild was up two goals in the second period at Xcel Energy Center against Dallas before the Stars scored four unanswered goals and went on to win 6-3.

So while it's easy to ponder "what-ifs," Head Coach Mike Yeo said he doesn't think the Wild deserved better in any of those games.

"I don’t think that we've played a 60-minute game, and when you play against a team like that, you have to be ready to bring it for 60 minutes," Yeo said. "Even the times we got leads we were a little bit fortunate in those games to get the leads that we did."

Yeo said in this latest Wild-Stars matchup, "We can't accept anything other than our best here tonight." Minnesota has played well in portions of games against Dallas, but hasn't been satisfied with the complete body of work.

"We've had stretches, and we've had spurts of really good hockey against them, but when they've pushed, we haven't pushed back, and that's going to be a big key tonight," Yeo said.

That's also where protecting a lead partially comes into play. Teams inherently, almost subconsciously can change their style of play when ahead in the latter portions of games.

But the best changes in those instances can be no change whatsoever.

"A lot of times when you try to protect a lead, then all of a sudden you're just spending time in your own zone," Parise said. "Which, to me, if you're playing the game, you're playing well, you're constantly in the offensive zone and you score — it's tough to score from the defensive zone."

And against a Dallas Stars team that scores more than anyone else in the league, making them defend is another key to success.

"That's the challenge because you get into that mode where maybe in the first period you're skating, and you're attacking off the rush, where all of a sudden in the third period, you just dump it in," Parise said. "All that's doing is giving them the puck, and they're coming right back down your throat.

"It's a hard thing because you don't want to turn it over in a crucial time in the game, but at the same time, by dumping it in, you're just giving them the puck back."


Defenseman Mike Reilly, who was called up by the Wild on Friday, will make his NHL debut on Saturday. 

Reilly, who has been recalled previously by the Wild twice this season, has skated in 32 games for the Iowa Wild, with five goals and 13 assists. 

"Obviously I worked all summer to try to be in this position as early as possible, and now that I'm here it's kind of surreal," Reilly said. "I just have to go enjoy this process, but it's a big game tonight for the team, so you want to come out with two points."

Reilly spent a week with the Wild in early December on a recall, but did not get in a game. Still, he characterized the experience as a valuable one that helped him re-find his game upon reassignment, and continue to progress in his first year as a pro. 

"I was able to watch a few of the games from up top and see how the system works," Reilly said. "I've gained some confidence since I've gone back (to Iowa) since I was last called up for a week."

As morning skate ended, Yeo and Reilly chatted at center ice. The message to Reilly from the coaches has pretty much been consistent beginning in training camp.

"He's up here because he has the ability to make plays and he can be a pretty dynamic player," Yeo said. "I don't want him playing the game afraid of making mistakes. He knows the way we want him to play, and we'll try to work with him on that, but I want him to play a confident game and show us what he can do."


After missing the past six games with a mild concussion, Darcy Kuemper will dress on Saturday and back up Devan Dubnyk.

With the Wild playing the second half of a back-to-back on Sunday against the New Jersey Devils, the possibility remains open that Kuemper could make his first start since December 22.

"We don't have a decision on tomorrow yet, but part of the thought process was get him into a backup role tonight and get him following the play, and making sure his head is in the game, and hopefully that does help him a little bit tomorrow if he does get in the lineup," Yeo said.

Here is the Wild's projected lineup:

Zach PariseMikko KoivuJason Zucker

Nino NiederreiterMikael GranlundJason Pominville

Thomas VanekCharlie CoyleJustin Fontaine

Ryan CarterJarret StollErik Haula

Ryan SuterJared Spurgeon

Marco ScandellaMatt Dumba

Mike ReillyJonas Brodin

Devan Dubnyk

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