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Wild Warmup: Minnesota at Dallas

Kuemper gets the nod in net for Minnesota against Dallas on Saturday

by Dan Myers @1DanMyers / Wild.com
The Essentials

Who: Minnesota Wild (26-9-5, 57 points, second place, Central Division) at Dallas Stars (18-17-8, 44 points, fifth place, Central Division)

Puck drop: 7:00 p.m. CT

Watch: FOX Sports North; FOX Sports GOWild Watch Bar Locations; NHL.TV

Listen: KFAN 100.3 FM

Follow: @mnwild; GameCenter


The Opponent

The Dallas Stars have struggled to find consistency this season, as evidenced by their 18-17-8 record. The Stars have gone 5-3-2 over their past 10 games, however, and have slowly been getting healthy. Captain Jamie Benn returned from a foot injury in Dallas' 5-2 win over the Detroit Red Wings on Thursday. Goaltending has been an issue for the Stars all year, but Antti Niemi has played well in each of his past two starts and is trending in the right direction.


Connections

• Stars assistant coach Curt Fraser played three seasons with the Minnesota North Stars from 1987-90.


Halfway Home

The Wild plays its 41st game Saturday, marking the halfway point of its regular season schedule. Last season, Minnesota also played Game 41 in Dallas (a 2-1 Wild victory on Jan. 9). At 26-9-5 this season, Minnesota's 57 points are the most through 40 games in franchise history (previously 50, 2015-16 and 2002-03). Regardless of Saturday's outcome, this season will mark a franchise record for most points after Game 41, surpassing 52 points (22-11-8) in 2015-16.


At the Rink

The Minnesota Wild open a weekend back-to-back against Central Division teams when it plays the Dallas Stars at American Airlines Center on Saturday. 

It's the first time since Dec. 27 the Wild has played a game inside the division and just the fifth time since Dec. 1.

"The divisional games are always close games, big points," said Wild goaltender Darcy Kuemper. "We're going to be up for it, they're going to be up for it and it's gonna be a good game tonight."

Kuemper was taking shots from the defensemen today, indicating he was the likely starter. Wild coach Bruce Boudreau said Friday that he wanted to start both goaltenders this weekend, making Devan Dubnyk the starter for Sunday's game in Chicago by default.

It's the second time Kuemper has started in this building this season and Dallas is a group he knows well.

"I'm familiar with their players and a lot of what they bring," Kuemper said. "Every time we play them it's a tough game. It seems always to be a close game and comes right down to the wire and I expect the same thing tonight."

Minnesota is expected to ice the same lineup as it did in a 7-1 win over the Canadiens on Thursday. Like he did two nights ago, Boudreau put his team through a more practice-like morning skate. 

The session only lasted 15 or 20 minutes, but guys were able to work up a quality sweat. Thursday, Minnesota worked on its power play during morning skate, but Boudreau wasn't pleased with how the team came out in the first period.

Boudreau added a little more skating to the mix on Saturday.

"I thought our start against Montreal wasn't very good," Boudreau said. "They have to have their legs going into a game against a team that can really skate. On the road, I don't think you can afford a bad start."

Here are the projected lineups:

WILD

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 - Christian Folin

Marco Scandella - Matt Dumba

Dercy Kuemper

Devan Dubnyk

STARS

Jiri Hudler - Jason Spezza - Tyler Seguin

Jamie Benn - Cody Eakin - Patrick Eaves

Antoine Roussel - Radek Faksa - Patrick Sharp

Lauri Korpikoski - Devin Shore - Brett Ritchie

Esa Lindell - John Klingberg

Dan Hamhuis - Stephen Johns

Johnny Oduya - Jordie Benn

Antti Niemi

Kari Lehtonen

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