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.
Editor’s Note: Pro Hockey Talk’s partner FanDuel is hosting a $2,000 Fantasy Hockey league for Tuesday night’s NHL games. It’s just $10 to join and first prize is $400. Starts Tuesday at 7:00 p.m. ET. Here’s the FanDuel link.
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.