Gameday Preview: Dallas Stars @ Minnesota Wild (7:00 CDT)

DALLAS - APRIL 08: Fans and fellow players paid homage to Mike Modano Thursday night. Expect Minnesota hockey fans to do the same for him tonight (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)

 

Dallas Stars @ Minnesota Wild

Saturday, Apr 10, 2010, 7:00 PM CDT
Xcel Energy Center

Local TV: My27

Radio: 1310 The Ticket (listen online @ stars.nhl.com)

Opponents: Hockey Wilderness

I'll bury the lede for just a few paragraphs since the only implications of tonight's game will be on draft order and the draft lottery. Minnesota will finish 13th in the West regardless of the outcome. The Stars have a shot at 11th if they can win tonight and couple that with a Ducks loss tomorrow against Edmonton home.

You know, in case you really care about any of that. Which you don't.

No, we're preparing ourselves for the Great Sports Cry of 2010 Part Two. This time, back in the state where Mike Modano initially broke into the NHL with the North Stars.

Whatever residual resentment over the Stars relocation from 16 years ago has evaporated. And even if it still existed, I'm sure it would all be set aside as Wild fans prepare to give Modano their own kind of send off.

Modano spent the first four years of his NHL career in the North Star State. In 317 regular season games, he racked up an amazing 123 goals and 186 points for 309 points. In the playoffs, he added 12 goals and 15 assists in 37 games, including 8 goals and 12 assists during the North Stars amazing run to the Stanley Cup Finals, including an upset of my beloved Chicago Blackhawks.

Don't worry, Mike. I've long forgiven you for that transgression. Brian Bellows and Jon Casey? Not so much.

Anyway, expect a lot of retro Modano 9 jerseys tonight. Some might even have upset down 6's.

The great Mike Heika points us to a couple of stories from longtime Star-Tribune Rachel Blount and Tom Powers of the Pioneer Press about the possible NHL finale for Modano and what it means to Minnesotans.

Including this one from Blount.

He came to Minnesota as an 18-year-old kid, charged with resuscitating a North Stars franchise failing in the standings and at the box office. For all his immense talent, no one could have imagined the imprint he would leave on his game. Over the course of 20 seasons, Modano helped hockey take root in football country, polished the image of the American-born player and remained in many Minnesotans' hearts even after his move down I-35. Tonight, the North Star-turned-Dallas Star could say his goodbyes in the same state that introduced him to the NHL.

So does Mo leave any hints to Blount about his intentions this summer?

Well...

"As the months and days tick by, I find [retirement] consuming a lot of my thoughts," he said. "I still feel like I can contribute and do some things, if I'm put in the right situations. But I don't know how things will play out.

"I don't think it happens very often to someone, that they could have their last game back where they started. It's going to be special for me to go back there one final time, seeing a lot of those familiar faces that were at Met Center. It could be a little emotional."

Meanwhile, Tom Powers drops a little something-something about Modano's camp contacting the Wild to gauge their interest in signing Mo so that he could finish his pro hockey career in the state where he started. I knew that Boston and Chicago had interest in him. And I figured some other unnamed teams, such as Minnesota, had interest in signing him as well.

Five years ago, Modano's representatives contacted the Wild and offered a proposal: Modano wanted to finish his career where it started, in Minnesota, and was willing to sign a three-year contract. The money apparently wasn't a problem. But the length of the contract was. Three years were one more than former general manager Doug Risebrough thought were prudent to give a 35-year-old free agent with a lot of hard miles on him.

I wouldn't have begrudged Modano for wanting to finish his career in Minnesota. But I shudder to think at the thought that Modano's final home game in a Stars jersey could have been a 3-2 double OT loss to Colorado in Game 4 of their first round series in 2004.

Thank god that didn't happen. And this night was allowed to happen.

The Stars sent down Aaron Gagnon yesterday, so expect Brandon Segal or Fabian Brunnstrom to return to the lineup tonight. You know, this could be Fabian's last game in a Stars jersey.

Just saying.

Kari Lehtonen will return between the pipes after Matt Climie got the start and Chicago and Marty Turco got the start in the home finale.

The Wild expect to have Niklas Backstrom back in net after he took a puck to the side of his neck in a rare road win at Calgary on Thursday.

How rare? Well, it was their 13th of the season. Which matches the number of road wins the Stars have had this season.

Of course, Calgary seems to be the elixir for bad road teams as they went 0-5 against the Wild and Stars this season at Pengrowth Saddeldome. Perhaps that's why Flames fans have to feel the worst amongst the 7 teams that won't make the playoffs this year in the West.

But the Flames aren't involved in this gameday preview so I'll shut up about them.

Back to the Wild, expect to see a number of young players from the Wild tonight. We go back to Rachel Blount for more on that:

The injury-depleted Wild will leave its fans with a peek at the future, as young C Casey Wellman, D Nate Prosser and C Cody Almond get another chance to make an impression.

Dallas leads the season series with a record of 2-1.

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