Wild, Stars meet seeking control of Central Division
Two of the NHL’s hotter teams will renew their divisional rivalry when the Minnesota Wild host the Dallas Stars on Thursday in Saint Paul, Minn.
Dallas leads the Central Division, but the Wild have narrowed the gap to six points after an outstanding stretch of hockey. Minnesota is 11-3-0 in its last 14 games, including both a 6-5 shootout win against the Stars on Dec. 4 and Tuesday’s 4-1 road win over another Central foe in the Winnipeg Jets.
The Wild entered the holiday break on a sour note, as a 5-2 loss to the San Jose Sharks ended Minnesota’s six-game winning streak. However, the Wild got back in the win column on Tuesday with what head coach Dean Evason described as “almost a perfect game for coming off a break.”
“From the goaltender out, we played the right way. We did a lot of good things,” Evason said. “We got pucks out, we got pucks in, we didn’t mess around. Not a lot of turnovers. … We didn’t make anything complicated tonight. So it was not necessarily the game plan, but the execution was fantastic.”
Minnesota has outscored opponents 27-12 over its last eight games, as both strong defense and strong goaltending has helped the Wild stifle offensive pressure. Goaltender Filip Gustavsson has played so well that he was rewarded with his second consecutive start on Tuesday after the Wild had been rotating him and Marc-Andre Fleury over the last two weeks.
Gustavsson looked good in stopping 31 of 32 Winnipeg shots. However, Fleury has rebounded from a slow start to post a .959 save percentage in his last three games, so the Wild might not want to keep Fleury on the bench for long.
Mats Zuccarello had a goal and an assist against the Jets, giving the forward 19 points (nine goals, 10 assists) in his last 13 games.
As well as the Wild have been playing, the Stars continue to hold a comfortable lead atop the division. Dallas is 7-2-1 in its last 10 games and has won two in a row after Tuesday’s 3-2 victory over the Nashville Predators.
With the game tied and less than 53 seconds remaining in regulation, Roope Hintz scored the winning goal. The Stars have made a habit of late surges, outscoring opponents 50-30 in third periods this season.
While the third-period dominance has been a positive for the Stars, Hintz would prefer a little more consistency throughout games.
“Try to keep playing (an) offensive game,” Hintz said. “I think sometimes we try to play too much (defense) and we lose the flow.”
Hintz has 18 goals this season, with five of those markers coming in his last three games.
One of Hintz’s two goals on Tuesday came on the power play, continuing the Stars’ impressive work with the extra attacker. The Stars are 8-for-22 on power-play chances in their last six games.
Jake Oettinger stopped 26 of 28 Nashville shots to earn his 15th win of the season. The Vezina Trophy contender will probably get the start against Minnesota, though the Stars could opt to give backup Scott Wedgewood his first action since Dec. 17.
–Field Level Media