Preview: Wild at Stars
DALLAS -- Two days after the Minnesota Wild defeated the Dallas Stars 5-2 at Xcel Energy Center, the Wild seek another favorable result in the rematch Saturday night at American Airlines Center.
In that victory, which made the Wild (43-24-10, 96 points) 5-2-3 in their past 10 games, Minnesota got two goals from Zach Parise, a short-handed goal from Mikael Granlund and power-play goals from Matt Dumba and Jason Zucker.
But none were bigger than Granlund's equalizer, which came after Dallas had taken an early 1-0 lead thanks to a goal by Stars captain Jamie Benn and with Dallas in the early stages of a four-minute power play.
"Absolutely, we're down 1-0, they can make it two, potentially three at that point and we score the goal while short-handed. It was a big turning point," Wild coach Bruce Boudreau said postgame. "It gave us a lot of life after that because we were pretty dead the first eight or 10 minutes."
Minnesota is 17-18-12 on the road and will likely be without defenseman Gustav Olofsson (upper body) after Boudreau termed Olofsson "very questionable" to travel to Dallas for the rematch after Thursday's victory.
Besides seeing his team respond well to the early deficit on Thursday, Boudreau also sees something else rather encouraging from the Wild as near the start of the Stanley Cup Playoffs-strong team unity, which often manifests itself in players sticking up for one another and propping each other up.
"Well, that's the only way you can win is if you're a team through and through. Sticking up for each other is a big sign of it," Boudreau said.
Dallas (39-31-8, 86 points), on the other hand, has dropped nine of its past 10 games. The Stars, who are 25-12-3 at home, are literally hanging on in the race for one of the two wild-card playoff spots in the Western Conference.
The Stars, who have four regular-season games remaining (three road, one home), are currently six points behind Colorado and St. Louis (92 points each) for the final wild-card spot in the West. The Blues also have a game in hand.
But as it has been for much of March, a lack of effort hasn't been the issue for the Stars. Its recent rash of losses have instead been because of a lack of execution on both ends of the ice.
"We worked hard again," Dallas coach Ken Hitchcock said after Thursday's loss. "We battled like crazy, competed, did the things you want to ask for. Every mistake that we made ended up in our net and the chances we had, we didn't finish on and they did. They seemed to turn our scoring chances into our goals. Again, we competed at a very, very high level and that's the way we're going to finish the year."
Stars defenseman Stephen Johns left Thursday's game with an upper-body injury and afterward Hitchcock confirmed Johns might have a concussion.
After practice on Friday, Hitchcock said Johns will miss Saturday's game, so Julius Honka will replace him on the Stars' blue line. Hitchcock said Johns could miss at least the next four or five days, making his status for Dallas' three-game road trip to California next week uncertain at best.
Dallas is just 1-7-2 in its last 10 games and Saturday will mark the Stars' final home game of the season, making it only fitting that the organization will honor franchise icon Mike Modano, who was originally selected first overall in the 1988 draft by the Minnesota North Stars five years before that franchise relocated to Dallas.
But all is not lost, at least not yet, for the Stars, who still maintain the slimmest of hopes of making the postseason. Dallas would not only have to win out, but the Stars would also need a lot of help.
Still, veteran center Jason Spezza isn't giving up the fight, at least not until the Stars are officially eliminated.
"Five-on-five, we did a good job (on Thursday)," Spezza said. "We controlled the play five-on-five. We gave up too much on the special-teams end. It's hard to win on the road that way."