A shot by Minnesota Wild left wing Erik Haula (56), of Finland, gets past Dallas Stars goalie Kari Lehtonen, of Finland, for a goal during the first period of an NHL hockey game in St. Paul, Minn., Saturday, Jan. 18, 2014. (AP Photo/Ann Heisenfelt)

NHL on NBCSN: Battered, but hot Wild face falling Stars

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NBCSN continues its coverage of the 2013-14 campaign tonight when the Dallas Stars host the Minnesota Wild at American Airlines Center at 8:00 p.m. ET. In addition to NBCSN, you can also watch the game online.

The Wild and Stars are teams heading in opposite directions. Minnesota has been playing without its two top forwards in Mikko Koivu and Zach Parise, and now backup goaltender Niklas Backstrom has joined starting netminder Josh Harding on the sidelines.

That’s a recipe for disaster and yet the Wild have been finding ways to win. Third-string goaltender Darcy Kuemper has risen to the occasion with a 1.37 GAA and .954 save percentage in his last five starts. Meanwhile 21-year-old forwards Nino Niederreiter and Charlie Coyle have heated up when their team has needed them the most.

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Combine that with Ryan Suter being Ryan Suter, which is to say phenomenal, and the Wild have managed to win seven of their last nine games against all odds.

Meanwhile, Dallas suffered a 4-1 loss to the Nashville Predators on Monday, dropping its January record to 1-8-1. They have fallen nine points behind Minnesota, which currently holds the second Wild Card spot.

“There’s no doubt that we’re at red alert,” coach Lindy Ruff told the Dallas Morning News. “We know that.”

A defeat tonight would be a major blow to a team whose playoff chances are already on life support. This is also the Stars’ last chance to try and prevent Minnesota from securing a win in the season series. The Wild have won the first two of four contests between these squads, although Dallas held its own in its 3-2 overtime loss to the Wild on Saturday.

“It’s hard to find a lot of bad stuff — possession-wise, zone-wise, everything was good,” Ruff said, referring to the Saturday match. “You can’t run around and pick on those one or two mistakes. We’re not going to play a perfect game.”

A lot of this game will rely on Dallas’ defense and goaltending. The Stars have allowed at least three goals in eight of their last 10 contests. Goaltender Kari Lehtonen, who got off to a fantastic start this season, has an ugly 3.47 GAA and .888 save percentage this month. His understudy, Dan Ellis, hasn’t fared any better.

Perhaps Lehtonen or Ellis will be the hero tonight. They need someone to be, because while several Wild players have made up for the team’s injuries, no one has been able to cure Dallas’ recent pain.

Latest way the Wild lost? Killed by penalty kill

Minnesota Wild goalie Devan Dubnyk sits on the ice after giving up a goal to St. Louis Blues' Jori Lehtera, of Finland, during the second period of an NHL hockey game Saturday, Feb. 6, 2016, in St. Louis. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)
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It’s said that variety is the spice of life, yet it seems to be the spite of the Minnesota Wild.

As head coach Mike Yeo said, this struggling team appears to find a new way to lose virtually every night. That couldn’t have happened once again on Saturday, when they fell 4-1 to the St. Louis Blues, could it?

Actually …

If you ask Jarret Stoll, the latest problem was the penalty kill.

Honestly, Stoll may have been too specific, likely trying to throw his own unit under the bus. Instead, it might be more accurate to say that Minnesota’s special teams let them down.

Indeed, the Wild struggled to limit the Blues’ power play, which went an unsettling 3-for-6. That said, Minnesota had a chance to trade blows with St. Louis. Instead, the Wild managed one power-play goal on seven opportunities.

The silver lining is that the Wild believe that they showed more fight than this fragile bunch had been generating before.

On the other hand, with Jonas Brodin on IR and Jared Spurgeon apparently hurt, that silver lining may not be so easy to see.

Statement in Blackhawks’ blowout of Stars? Coach Q says they’re even

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Worry (if you’re pulling for the Stars) or gloat (if you’re a Blackhawks fan) all you want, but the bottom line is that the Central Division’s No.1 spot is clearly in Chicago’s control after Saturday night.

The Blackhawks earned a decisive 5-1 win against the Dallas Stars, giving them a five-point standings lead over Dallas for the Central Division lead.

You may feel like that’s more of the same, but consider this: things would look a lot closer if Dallas won or gained points, as they hold three games in hand on the ‘Hawks.

At least one Blackhawks player admits this game means a little more than your average W.

Indeed, while Antti Niemi was pulled from the game and Kari Lehtonen faced his own struggles in Dallas’ net, Corey Crawford ranked as one of the big reasons why the score was so lopsided.

(Artem Anisimov had a big say in that, too.)

As a wise coach with 1,000+ games of experience would do, Joel Quenneville didn’t go overboard in assessing the victory.

Was this a statement game? Who knows, but a certain statement is that the Blackhawks now have a five-point standings lead.

Brad Marchand wins it … on a penalty shot … in overtime

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Looking at the standings, beating the Buffalo Sabres was pretty important for the Boston Bruins. The Atlantic Division’s run for spots appears particularly congested out East.

Of all the Bruins to get a chance to win it all, the team might have wanted Brad Marchand to have that opportunity. He’s on pace to destroy his previous career-highs for scoring, and Marchand’s been particularly hot lately.

Either way, Marchand came up big indeed, scoring the rare overtime game-winner on a penalty shot. Check out the drama below:

That can be a big extra point and ROW (regulation/overtime win) when the regular season is finished.

Note: Many believe that Marchand should not have received a penalty shot on the play.

Crosby kills the Cats: Penguins end Panthers’ winning streak

Pittsburgh Penguins' Sidney Crosby (87) collides with Florida Panthers' Connor Brickley (86) during the second period of an NHL hockey game in Pittsburgh, Tuesday, Oct. 20, 2015. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)
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For quite some time, it looked like the Florida Panthers would keep the Pittsburgh Penguins under wraps.

Florida nursed a 1-0 lead into a 2-0 margin almost halfway through the third period, looking to win its sixth consecutive game. That looked great … and then Sidney Crosby + Kris Letang happened.

Let’s put it this way: this GIF of Crosby being frustrated is amusing, yet it doesn’t exactly tell the story of Saturday’s 3-2 overtime win for the Penguins:

Instead, Crosby grabbed his 900th point assisting on a Letang goal, and finished the night with 902 by collecting the game-tying goal and grabbing a helper on Letang’s overtime game-winner.

Crosby crossing that barrier is indeed special, even if it prompts “What if?” questions about No. 87’s health.

The resurgence of Crosby and Letang already played a big role in the Penguins going from disjointed and frustrating to sneaky and scary, so it  shouldn’t be that surprising to see them play so well. Doing so in such brisk order is a little bewildering, however.