The Wild visits the Dallas Stars tonight here at American Airline Center.
You know about the streak, so no need to rehash this story on the 16-game winless streak. Asked Zenon Konopka: "Is it true we haven't won here in 10 years? You've got to be kidding me."
I can't even convey to you how loose this locker room was this morning. I always say to people, I have never been in the Dallas visiting room before or after a game and dealt with a happy player. Complete opposite this morning. Players joking back and forth, shooting the breeze with writers, watching golf.
As I sit on a golf cart outside the locker room writing this, the only thing I hear right now is executive Andrew Brunette's loud laugh.
Just again, a different atmosphere around this confident team right now. The key is keeping the foot on the gas. Wild technically fell back to fourth last night because the Vancouver Canucks beat Colorado to take over first in the division. The Canucks have won four in a row but have played two more games than the Wild, so a Wild win tonight and Minnesota will leapfrog them. The Canucks though play teams outside the top-8 in the West the next TEN games.
Niklas Backstrom vs. Kari Lehtonen tonight. The Finns just keep starting for their respective teams.
Backstrom could be getting a day off Friday in Dallas or at home Saturday vs. Los Angeles. Matt Hackett, up since March 9 but caddying Backstrom the past eight games, was sent back to Houston to start one game. Sounds almost definitely like he will be recalled and get one of those two starts.
Coach Mike Yeo did say that if Backstrom is going to get Friday's game off as opposed to Saturday, there is some "logic" into not making Backstrom travel to Dallas on Friday and going with a Hackett-Darcy Kuemper duo. But Yeo said no decision has been made and he is only concentrating on tonight's game against the Brenden Morrow-less Stars.
The Stars captain was traded to Pittsburgh yesterday for stud defenseman Joe Morrow (no relation). Quiet Stars locker room today, and even though the writing was on the wall that he'd be dealt, a couple of guys I know real well in there said he will be sorely missed.
So could we see a jacked-up Stars team tonight or an emotionally distraight one?
Backstrom was honored today with Second Star of the Week in the NHL. Alex Ovechkin was First Star, Nazem Kadri was Third. Backstrom posted a 3-0-0 record, 1.00 goals-against average, .972 save percentage and one shutout in three starts to help the Wild extend its winning streak to a season-high five games. He made 35 saves in a 3-1 triumph at Vancouver March 18 to lead Minnesota to its first victory at Rogers Arena since Jan. 31, 2009 (0-9-2). Backstrom then recorded a season-high 36 stops in a 4-2 victory at Detroit March 20. He closed the week with 33 saves in a 2-0 win over San Jose March 23 to pick up the 27th shutout of his NHL career and his first since Feb. 19, 2012. The 35-year-old Helsinki native ranks second in the League with 16 wins this season and has a 2.23 goals-against average and .921 save percentage in 25 appearances.
He was also named Third Star of the Week on March 4. He got shellacked March 5 in Chicago and pulled after one period. That also came after a Marian Hossa ceremony. If you know Backstrom, few goalies are more routine regimented. He does everything the same way every pregame. Afternoon games, other than the San Jose shutout, he's sometimes off (see last Colorado game). That entire ceremony in Chicago he was skating around his crease, messing with the ice. We've seen this before.
Guess what? Tonight, longtime Star Darryl Sydor, the Wild's assistant coach, will be honored during a pregame ceremony. GM Chuck Fletcher let Sydor's wife and four sons, all of whom were born in Dallas, on the team charter so they could attend the ceremony.
If you know Sydor, he's not comfortable with the limelight, so as cool as tonight is, you know he'll feel a bit queasy about the whole thing. You can hear from Sydor in tomorrow's paper. Yeo is excited for him. Immense amount of respect between Yeo and Sydor. Yeo coached Sydor in Pittsburgh and hired him as his assistant in Houston. When he got the Wild job, Yeo brought Sydor along for the ride as his lone addition to Rick Wilson, Darby Hendrickson and Bob Mason.
I'll write more about Jason Zucker's demotion -- for lack of a better term -- in tomorrow's paper. He simply has to play, the Wild says. For now, Pierre-Marc Bouchard has reestablished himself on the second line with Matt Cullen and Devin Setoguchi. The Wild's won five in a row since that change took place. Zucker played the past three games on the fourth line. He averaged 9:03 of ice time and didn't have a single shot.
Just like Mikael Granlund and Marco Scandella, if he's not going to get significant minutes here, Fletcher believes he should get top-line minutes in Houston. Remember, Zucker hasn't played the power play in five weeks. Get him down to Houston, he'll feel the puck a lot, be good again and he'll be back up eventually. Fletcher said things change quickly in this game.
Mike Rupp returns tonight after missing three games with a lower body injury. Rupp insurance, Jake Dowell, won't play. Brett Clark continues to wait as well. Nate Prosser is out, too.
The Wild does have interest in hotshot Western Michigan defenseman Dan DeKeyser and is awaiting to hear if they can chat with him tomorrow. The Wild won't get him though. The Wild can't put him on the team right away. Same reason why Andrej Sustr didn't choose here. DeKeyser wants to play right away. Detroit's got the inside shot. He's from Detroit, grew up a Red Wings fan, had Red Wings everything all over his bedroom walls as a kid.
The Wild's just in a different stage as an organization. There was a time where the cupboard was bare and they had to sign Casey Wellman and Jarod Palmer and Nate Prosser and Justin Fontaine and Chad Rau and Chay Genoway, etc. There was a time where they went hard after guys like Stephane Da Costa. Now, there's just little room. They do have interest in college free agents still. DeKeyser. I'd think they'd get in on Nate Schmidt and Drew Leblanc when they're free. But Wild's not going to break the bank at this stage.
That's it for now. I'll be on Fox Sports North during the pregame show tonight and the first intermission. Later.
OH, here were those "Last Time the Wild Won in Dallas" Twitter entries from last season. Maybe I'll use some tonight.
The last time the Wild won in Dallas, a silver-haired Sid Hartman was the beat writer.