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Gameday Preview: Dallas Stars Host Minnesota Wild (7:30pm CST)

If Dallas Stars fans see "Minnesota Wild" on the schedule and automatically and involuntarily think "Win", it's not their fault.

According to Stars PR Dallas has defeated the Wild thirteen times in a row at the American Airlines Center and has a 17-4-1 record against the Wild since the 2005-2006 season, including two wins already this season, one of which was a 4-0 shutout in January.

With a long streak like that, however, it's human nature for both sides to wonder how much longer it can continue. Is tonight the night the Wild finally break through in Dallas? They nearly did in December, taking the Stars to OT before Stephane Robidas saved that particular day with a PP goal.

Minnesota has 77 points and only 14 games remaining on their schedule. The math says in order to reach 95 points and a hope at winning some tie breakers, they must play .643 hockey the rest of the way, while the Stars must only collect points at a .500 pace to reach the same total. If the Stars should win in regulation tonight that number will go up to .692 for the Wild with only 13 games remaining, two of them against Vancouver and another against the Stars. That's a tall order.

What I am trying to say is this: After a 4-0 Minnesota loss in Nashville last night, the Stars just might hold the Wild's fate in their hands tonight. A regulation Wild win doesn't cripple the Stars chances nearly as much as a Dallas win crush's theirs.

Both these teams enter tonight's game with the distinction of having given up three goals in the first period of their last game. The Stars rallied to get a point, the Wild did not...

When playing the Nashville Predators, giving them a multi goal lead early is about the worst thing one can do because that budget team is built to frustrate, clog, and muddy up the game. As soon as Minnesota fell behind last night they were doomed to get "Trotzed" (or Tippetted if you like). The Stars do not offer these same trappings so the Wild could break through tonight.

The Wild have scored only 10 total goals in their last six road games and were shutout by Andrew Raycroft when last these teams met. Dallas will hope those trends continue tonight to keep the total low.

For once the Stars will enter the game less injured than their opponents. Brad Richards is expected to play his second game back and Nick Grossman is a possibility tonight.

One the Wild side, they are without their captain, Mikko Koivu (broken finger), Cal Blutterbuck (upper body) and Cam Barker (upper body).

Hockey Wilderness is asking the tough questions as the team seemingly waits around for their captain to get back in the lineup:

Waiting for Mikko on October 16th is one thing. Waiting for Mikko on March 10th is something completely different. Searching out who is the leadership at the beginning of the season is normal. New players on board, expectations of improvement, injuries immediately. These things get worked out over the course of a season.

The season is all but over. This is the time of year when the leaders step up and... lead. John MaddenAndrew BrunetteMatt CullenMartin HavlatBrent BurnsNick Schultz. These guys have done this before. They've been under the pressure. They need to step up and lead the team, even without Kaptain Koivu.

Fourteen games left. Either Mikko Koivu comes back and carries a team on his back while nursing a broken finger, or one of the guys listed above has to step up and take charge. Get angry, get proud, get something. Looking at it from the outside it seems clear.

And here's a note from the Minnesota Star Tribune game story last night...

Burns did create what looked like a gimme for Antti Miettinen. But Miettinen, who has no goals in 13 games, rocket-launched the puck into the sky 5 feet from a yawning net.

I thought you might get a kick out of that blast from the past.

One thing is for sure: The Stars need to be careful because they are going to see a very, very desperate team tonight, and one good hop for them could inject a world of confidence into a hurting bunch. They key is to do what Nashville did. Strike early. Kick them when they're down. Don't let them hang around.

Tonight's game is on Fox Sports (proper, not +).

With a win the Stars can go as high as 4th place. A loss and they're likely in 8th with Minnesota, Nashville and Anaheim threatening to pass over the weekend.