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.

Trade deadline: Caps only need to ‘upgrade on the fringes’

NEW YORK, NY - JANUARY 07:  Caps senior vice president and general manager Brian MacLellan of the Washington Capitals speaks with the media prior to the game against the New York Islanders at the Barclays Center on January 7, 2016 in the Brooklyn borough of New York City.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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The way the Washington Capitals have been steamrolling their opponents in 2017, it was no surprise to hear GM Brian MacLellan say he doesn’t expect to make major changes ahead of Wednesday’s trade deadline.

“This year, I don’t feel that pressure or that need to do anything,” MacLellan said, per CSN Mid-Atlantic’s Tarik El-Bashir. “We’re not going to mess with lines or defensive pairs. If we can upgrade on the fringes, we might do it.”

The Caps have already added some defensive depth, acquiring Tom Gilbert last week in a trade with the Kings.

Gilbert is currently with AHL Hershey but could be called upon soon after Matt Niskanen was forced to leave last night’s win over the Flyers.

MacLellan said today that Niskanen is day-to-day with a lower-body injury, adding that it wasn’t anything “serious.”

“We’ll make sure he’s 100 percent before he comes back,” the GM said, per CSN Mid-Atlantic.

The Caps’ next game is Friday at home to the Oilers. On Saturday, they’re in Nashville to take on the Predators.

Gaudreau wasn’t demoted for missing team bus, says Gulutzan

GLENDALE, AZ - DECEMBER 08:  Johnny Gaudreau #13 of the Calgary Flames skates up to a face off during the second period of the NHL game against the Arizona Coyotes at Gila River Arena on December 8, 2016 in Glendale, Arizona.  (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
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Calgary head coach Glen Gulutzan set the record straight about Johnny Gaudreau missing a team bus for an outdoor practice in New York earlier this month, and Gaudreau’s subsequent fourth-line demotion a week later.

“I can tell you this — it wasn’t a big deal,” Gulutzan explained, per the Calgary Sun. “We were in a gong show that day — we were dressing in a hotel ballroom, it was a real mess.

“He was with the trainer, so he came over with him. It was a 10 a.m. bus and I said, ‘hey do your thing, everyone else get there.’ So he jumped in a cab with (head therapist) Kent (Kobelka).”

The incident occurred on Feb. 4, and made for quite the scene — Gaudreau, decked out in full gear, jumped out of a taxi at Central Park just prior to practice. He then played over 19 minutes the following night against the Rangers, tallying an assist, but two games later was dropped to the bottom line in an ugly 5-0 loss to Arizona.

The initial assumption was Gaudreau got demoted because of an offensive zone turnover at the end of a lengthy shift. But given his history — last year, he was scratched after showing up late for practice following a reported “epic” Super Bowl party — there was some speculation he’d been subjected to another team punishment.

Not the case, said Gulutzan. From the Sun:

He insists no team rules were broken and no discipline was needed.

Gulutzan and other team officials said exceptions weren’t made for the superstar, nor were there whispers on the bus about him getting preferential treatment.

It’s been an up-and-down year for Gaudreau. He missed the entire preseason embroiled in contract negotiations before inking a monster six-year, $40.5 million extension.

He’s oft been the subject of targeting this season, and missed 10 games with a broken finger from an Eric Staal slash. As a result, his production is down — just 11 goals and 39 points through 50 games — and has found the back of the net just once in his last 20 contests.

That said, Gaudreau’s still shown off his incredible offensive talent. In Tuesday’s wild 6-5 OT win over Nashville, he racked up four assists, which included a helper on Mark Giordano‘s winner in the extra frame.

Letang day-to-day, but Schultz hopes to play Saturday

PITTSBURGH, PA - OCTOBER 20:  Justin Schultz #4 of the Pittsburgh Penguins skates with the puck in the first period during the game against the San Jose Sharks at PPG PAINTS Arena on October 20, 2016 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Justin Berl/Getty Images)
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Justin Schultz is hoping to play Saturday when the Penguins host their rivals from Philadelphia outdoors at Heinz Field.

The 26-year-old offensive defenseman was back at practice today after missing three games with a concussion suffered a week ago.

“It’s good to be back,” Schultz told reporters. “The legs feel really good. Not cleared for contact yet. Hopefully I can be ready for the game.”

Schultz is enjoying a career year with nine goals and 30 assists in 56 games, and the Pens may need him Saturday since Kris Letang is now “day-to-day with an upper-body injury,” according to head coach Mike Sullivan. 

No word how Letang was injured. The 29-year-old managed to log 28:49 of ice time in Tuesday’s 3-1 win in Carolina, but he skipped practice today.

Suffice to say, the Pens’ defense is in a real state of flux at the moment. Trevor Daley is expected to miss the rest of the regular season due to knee surgery, and Olli Maatta is out long term as well. Those two injuries likely hastened GM Jim Rutherford to pick up Ron Hainsey in a trade today with Carolina.

“I’m familiar with him because I signed him in Carolina,” Rutherford said of Hainsey. “He’s a real character guy. He’s a good penalty killer.”

Rutherford added that the Pens may be in the market for another defenseman still.

Pittsburgh has two games left before the March 1 deadline, Saturday against the Flyers and Tuesday in Dallas.

Related: Shattenkirk headlines list of UFA d-men who could be traded

‘Canes waive Bickell in hope of extended AHL stint

WINNIPEG, MANITOBA - OCTOBER 13: Paul Postma #4 of the Winnipeg Jets and Bryan Bickell #29 of the Carolina Hurricanes head to the Carolina zone during NHL action on October 22, 2016 at the MTS Centre in Winnipeg, Manitoba. (Photo by Jason Halstead /Getty Images)
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Busy day in Carolina — shortly after sending veteran d-man Ron Hainsey to Pittsburgh, the ‘Canes placed forward Bryan Bickell on waivers.

Bickell, who was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis earlier this season, has been training and skating in advance of a comeback.

He’s been out since Oct. 30, and missed the last 48 games.

Today’s move is based on the assumption Bickell, 30, will need more than the standard two-week conditioning stint in the AHL, so the plan is for him to clear, then spend extended time in Charlotte.

“I’ll tell you what: he’s done everything he possibly can to get himself ready and get back at it, so we’ll see where it leads,” head coach Bill Peters said, per the ‘Canes website. “It’s an unreal source of inspiration, and his attitude has been fantastic through this whole thing.

“I give him nothing but credit there.”

Per NHL.com, Bickell originally aimed to return to the ‘Canes following their bye week, targeting a home date against the Avalanche on Feb. 17.

“It all depends too on what other guys are doing if they’re going on a huge streak,” Bickell explained. “I like to see them win. If they need me, I’m sure an extra week of me skating is not going to hurt me.

“We’re just going to wait until after the next treatment and after the bye week and go from there.”

Bickell’s treatment is a monthly intravenous of Tysabri, a drug which helps limit the effects of MS. The 30-year-old said he began feeling better upon taking the medication, and has steadily his skating workload to get up to NHL speed.