The Dallas Stars and Minnesota Wild won’t ease into the post-Christmas break portion of their schedules when the Central Division combatants meet for the first time this season Wednesday in Saint Paul, Minn. Dallas has won two straight after a three-game losing streak (0-1-2) to move into postseason position and four points ahead of Minnesota, which has lost four of its last five to fall one point below the playoff line.
“You look at our division (Central Division), every single team looks like they can make the playoffs. It’s tough,” Stars goaltender Ben Bishop told the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. “It’s not like there’s any easy nights out there anymore.” Wild goalie Devan Dubnyk practiced for the first time Thursday since sustaining a lower-body injury and his return appears imminent. “I was really pleasantly surprised,” Minnesota coach Bruce Boudreau told reporters about Dubnyk, who has missed the last six games. “The way he was moving on that one drill, I asked a player if that was Devan. You don’t expect the first time the guy’s on the ice in close to 10 days that he’s going to be that good.” The Wild won last season’s series 4-0-1, including victories in the last three meetings, with Mikael Granlund (goal, six assists) and Mikko Koivu (two goals, four assists) doing the most damage.
TV: 8 p.m. ET, FSN Southwest Plus (Dallas), FSN North Plus (Minnesota)
ABOUT THE STARS (20-14-3): Tyler Seguin (club-high 17 goals) and captain Jamie Benn (15) pace Dallas with 32 points apiece as Seguin scored three times in the last two games and Benn twice in the past three. Alexander Radulov (12) and Radek Faksa (10) are the next-highest goal scorers with Faksa a team-best plus-15. Defenseman John Klingberg (club-most 27 assists, 31 points) has four assists in his last three games.
ABOUT THE WILD (18-15-3): Eric Staal (team-most 31 points) and Jason Zucker (25) share the team lead with 14 goals apiece, but Zucker is mired in an eight-game goal drought with one assist during that span. Defenseman Ryan Suter, who leads the NHL in ice time at 27 minutes, 13 seconds per game, and Granlund are next with 22 points apiece. Nino Niederreiter (10 goals, 16 points, plus-8 this season) missed Saturday’s 3-0 loss at Tampa Bay with a lower-body injury.
1. Minnesota has killed 30-of-32 power plays in its last seven games with the two allowed coming in a 6-4 victory at Ottawa on Dec. 19.
2. Seguin is tied for fifth in the league with seven power-play goals while Klingberg is tied for fourth among defenseman with 10 power-play assists.
3. The Wild are 4-6-0 versus the Central Division this season while the Stars are 6-8-0.
PREDICTION: Wild 3, Stars 2