Wild-Stars Preview

The Associated Press

The Minnesota Wild are playing their best hockey of the season, but coach Mike Yeo isn't getting too excited.

That's probably a good idea with a game in Dallas on tap.

The Wild will try to extend their winning streak to six on Monday night when they go for their first victory at the Stars in 17 tries.

Winners of 12 of 16, the Wild (18-10-2) have put themselves in a good position to earn their first playoff appearance since 2007-08. Minnesota, though, is just five points ahead of eighth-place Dallas (15-13-3) with five weeks left.

"We're not anywhere yet," said Yeo, whose team followed up a 3-0-0 trip with Saturday's 2-0 victory over San Jose. "The only thing we've done is set ourselves up the right way."

Minnesota has outscored each of its opponents by two during its winning streak - the first such streak in team history - but the club has been outscored by a 2-to-1 margin (60-30) during an 0-11-5 skid in Dallas. The Wild's last road win in this series was 3-2 in overtime on March 21, 2003.

Goaltender Niklas Backstrom has never won in Dallas, going 0-5-3 with a 3.71 goals-against average in eight starts. However, the veteran Finn is 13-3-1 in his last 17 starts, allowing two goals or fewer 12 times during that run.

Backstrom earned his first shutout of the season on Saturday with 33 saves.

"He's been on his game. He's one of the top goalies in the league, for sure,'' said defenseman Ryan Suter, who leads the Wild with seven assists and eight points during the winning streak. "You make a mistake, and he's there to shut the door.''

Josh Harding did that in the only other matchup between these clubs this season - making 24 saves in a 1-0 victory on Jan. 20 - but he hasn't played since Feb. 7 as he's adjusting to medication for multiple sclerosis.

Cristopher Nilstorp was in net for Dallas on Jan. 20, but Kari Lehtonen should get the nod from coach Glen Gulutzan for a 12th consecutive game after stopping 73 of 75 shots in winning his last two. Lehtonen's shutout streak ended at 102:35 late in the second period of Saturday's 5-2 victory over Colorado. It was the start of the Stars' season-high five-game homestand.

"That's what we need," said Gulutzan, whose club has won three of four following an 0-3-1 skid. "Any team's that making a push here has got to get goaltending."

Points from Jaromir Jagr also help. The 41-year-old has a goal in each of the last three games and six points during that stretch to lift his team-high total to 24. Jagr is one assist from becoming the 12th in league history to reach 1,000.

Rookie defenseman Jordie Benn just scored his first NHL goal on Saturday, but even he understands the edge the Stars could have this week as they won't play again after Monday until Friday versus Minnesota. The Wild have a Wednesday home game against the Coyotes before returning to Dallas.

"(Travel is) kind of hard on the body," Benn said, "so you get some time to rest and have at it."

Wild forward Zach Parise, who snapped a season-high five-game goal-scoring drought on Saturday with his team-leading 12th, netted the lone score on Jan. 20. It was his first with the club after spending his first seven seasons with New Jersey.

Parise has no goals in four games in Dallas.

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