Stars-Wild Preview

The Associated Press

Despite being without two of their top skaters and their No. 1 goaltender, the Minnesota Wild have been playing some of their best hockey of late.

With return dates for those players still uncertain, they'll try to keep rolling along Saturday night when they host the struggling Dallas Stars.

Mikko Koivu and Zach Parise - two of the top four point scorers for the Wild (26-19-5) - remain out. Koivu has missed six games since undergoing surgery on his ankle, while Parise has sat out 12 with a fractured left foot.

Minnesota lost its first four games after Parise went down but now appears to be better adjusted. The Wild have won six of eight, tallying four or more goals five times.

Jared Spurgeon, second among the team's defensemen with a plus-6 rating, has also missed seven straight games with a lower-body injury. His absence has created an opportunity for Nate Prosser, who scored in the second period to break a 1-1 tie in Thursday's 4-1 victory over Edmonton.

Prosser, who played in just 12 of the Wild's first 38 games, is a team-best plus-7 over Minnesota's last five contests.

"He's an unbelievable professional," coach Mike Yeo told the team's website. "He's an unbelievable team guy and it wasn't easy to scratch him. He's a guy that has made the absolute most of his opportunity."

Netminder Josh Harding has missed eight games after an adjustment to his multiple sclerosis treatment. Darcy Kuemper has played well since being called up from the AHL, stopping 20 shots Thursday and recording a 1.22 goals-against average in four games during Harding's absence. Veteran Niklas Backstrom has a 2.00 GAA in the other four games, but Kuemper might be earning the favor of Yeo, who has started him in three straight contests.

Kuemper also might be the better option Saturday given Backstrom has lost 12 of 17 career starts versus the Stars and has a 3.64 GAA in the last five. Kuemper has never faced them.

Dallas (21-19-7) is slipping out of postseason contention. The Stars were two points out of playoff position before dropping seven of eight this month while surrendering 4.0 goals per game. Now they're eight points behind Minnesota and Vancouver for a Western Conference wild-card spot.

Kari Lehtonen owns a 3.48 GAA during Dallas' 1-7-0 stretch while Dan Ellis has a 4.54 mark and was pulled from one of two starts.

Only four skaters own a positive plus-minus rating during the same span. Tyler Seguin leads Dallas with 21 goals but has scored once in the last eight games.

The Stars were unable to build off Tuesday's 5-2 win over the Oilers, falling 4-2 at home to Boston on Thursday.

"It was a mixed bag for me," coach Lindy Ruff told the team's website. "Pockets of good play. We got some breaks that could have allowed us to win. We made some mistakes that gave them real good opportunities. We lost some wall battles that led to a couple goals."

Minnesota has won three of four in the series, including a 5-1 home victory Oct. 12 in the lone matchup this season.