ST. PAUL, Minn. — The Dallas Stars have a high-octane offense that no team in the NHL this season could match.
The Minnesota Wild must at least come close in order to compete in their first-round playoff series.
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Starting with the league’s second-leading scorer, Jamie Benn, the Stars will be a lot for the Wild to handle. As most teams would, the Wild have stressed a defense-first approach. Interim coach John Torchetti sternly indicated after a lackluster effort in the regular-season finale that players committed to a two-way game would be in the lineup over those who are not.
"Whoever’s playing the right way is going to be playing, and that’s the bottom line," Torchetti said.
The Wild do need more goals than they’ve been getting, though. They scored the fewest goals of the Western Conference playoff teams, ranking 18th in the NHL with an average of 2.6 per game with only six scores during their season-ending five-game losing skid. Their power play finished on an 0-for-16 slide.
Erik Haula, Zach Parise and Thomas Vanek are hurting, too, potentially further diluting production up front.
"Everyone needs to step up. It’s not one or two guys that’s going to make a difference. It’s a team game, it’s a team effort," right wing Jason Pominville said. "Everyone has to feed off each other’s game. You can’t look at it as one guy being a hero. It’s all about everyone trying to do what we can to help the team win."
The Wild actually tied the Stars for the NHL lead this season with 12 players at 10-plus goals, though one of them, David Jones, accumulated most of his with the Calgary Flames before arriving in a trade. So the potential for balanced, three- to four-line scoring is there. It just needs to happen.
"I don’t think it really matters who you play," captain Mikko Koivu said. "You’re going to need that no matter what."
There’ve been plenty of warning signs recently suggesting that an instant spark might not be waiting for the Wild in Game 1 on Thursday. Parise still led the team with 25 goals despite playing in 70 games, but he didn’t look like his usual gritty, energetic self down the stretch. He hasn’t been on the ice in a week because of an undisclosed injury that Torchetti said Monday was being evaluated on a "day-to-day" basis. The Wild were off on Tuesday.
Vanek hasn’t scored since February. He has an unspecified upper-body injury. Then there is Haula, whose injury was also undisclosed. He is one of the few forwards who produced a better-than-expected season, with a career-high 14 goals. Haula, who has thrived next to linemate Nino Niederreiter, would also be useful to defend against Benn’s line.
"Obviously, those are some pretty good players," defenseman Ryan Suter said, adding: "Yeah, it’s going to hurt not having those guys, if they’re not in the lineup, but we’ve got to find a way to win and buy some time until they can get back in."