Tuesday, March 13th, 2012, 7:00 PM CST
Xcel Energy Center
Opponent Blog: Hockey Wilderness
How much better can things get for a team that has a ten game (9-0-1) point streak and is 10-1-2 in their last thirteen overall? The Dallas Stars hope to find out tonight and that the magic continues as they make their final visit of the season to Xxcel Energy Center to take on the Minnesota Wild.
The Stars managed just a single goal (plus an empty netter) against the Ducks on home ice Saturday night to extend their win-streak to five games, though they appeared to have lost Sheldon Souray and Radek Dvorak in the process. They'll play the Wild and the Jets back-to-back before a huge game with Chicago at the AAC Friday night.
Minnesota took the first game in St. Paul between these two in impressive fashion with a 5-2 win on January 21st. The Wild entered that one having lost seven of their last eight. This time they've dropped five of their last six.
Goal scoring between the two teams is even this year at seven a piece, and the Wild have out-shot Dallas in each of their three meetings (89-76 total). The Stars have dropped two straight at Xcel Energy Center dating back to last season's final day.
The pressure remains as intense as ever in the Western Conference as the Stars got zero help whatsoever last night. The Avalanche won their fourth game in five tries to push closer to Dallas, and San Jose finally snapped out of it with a 3-2 win over the Oilers. The Sharks' games in hand make them very concerning moving forward. The Coyotes staged a two goal comeback in the third period on the Nashville Predators, of all teams, and collected points to get even closer to Dallas. The Stars, as cruel as it is after a 9-0-1 stretch, simply must keep winning at a high rate just to get in.
Much more on each team after the jump...
The return of Brenden Morrow bolstered the Stars forward group Saturday night against the Ducks and he was the subject of most conversations afterward, for one reason or another. The Captain scored the game winning goal in the second period, but also sat in the penalty box three times as the game wore on. The Stars surging penalty kill kept a clean sheet for Kari Lehtonen, but the Stars hope for a more disciplined and effective Morrow as he gets his timing back.
Lines should look something like this for in Minnesota:
We're guessing on Garbutt, but the way Toby Petersen has been used this season seems to send a clear message. Burish played with Fiddler in practice Monday, while Dvorak didn't skate at all. Gulutzan said he's questionable for this one, so we'll see how it works out in morning skate today.
Sheldon Souray is doubtful, so the pairings are likely to be these:
Jordie Benn was recalled late yesterday afternoon to provide depth at defense, should something go wrong on the trip.
Kari Lehtonen will start in net for Dallas. He allowed four goals in the second period of the team's previous trip to Minnesota this season and was relieved by Richard Bachman for the third period.
From Stars PR: "Dallas' next point in the standings guarantees that their season will finish with a .500 record for the 15th consecutive season. Only the Detroit Red Wings have a longer such streak (20 seasons)."
With 68 points through 69 games, the Wild's playoff chances are all but dead, but their coach isn't hearing any of that. He's demanding greater effort from his team down the stretch and he doesn't care who it comes from.
"We had a lot of guys but we didn't have everybody," said Mike Yeao of their effort against the Flames. "And we're playing against a team that has 20 guys out there playing like they need to win. We had a handful of guys who let us down tonight."
"The nice thing is we have one extra body now, and potentially another one on the way. And we're going to be playing guys that want to play hard."
Minnesota has been without Mikko Koivu and Cal Clutterbuk for stretches this year, along with a host of others, but they're hoping to get both back soon. Clutterbuck practiced Monday and is a good possibility to return tonight, but Koivu skated in a red jersey and will be a little further down the line in his return, luckily for the Stars.
The Wild would have to win out (13-0-0) to get to 94 points on the season. They've lost six of seven coming into this one, though the lone victory was a helpful one over the Phoenix Coyotes where the Dallas Stars are concerned.
Consecutive losses to the Colorado Avalanche by a combined score of 9-2 last week really doomed their season and dimmed their hopes. If they win those two games, they have 72 points and Colorado has 72. Both would be just 4 back of a playoff spot as of this writing. The clean sweep leaves the Wild firmly on the outside. The Stars have similar back to back games coming up against the Flames and the Sharks. A massive swing (one way or the other) could be in store for someone involved, like what happened to Minnesota. It's an interesting schedule quirk this late when both teams are involved in the race.
They've dropped eight of their last ten at home.
The lineup recently:
Matt Hackett figures to start in net as Josh Harding is still ailing and Niklas Backstrom is out long term. Hackett relieved Backstrom in the team's last meeting at American Airlines Center, stopping all 10 shots he faced. He has lost three of his last four starts, though he didn't have much of a chance on several of the goals the Flames scored in their last contest.
You can read up on the despondency of Wild fans here at Hockey Wilderness.