DALLAS – Sunday will be Eric Staal’s first chance to see, firsthand, what this Wild-Chicago rivalry is all about.
Staal is in his first season with the Wild, and Sunday will be the first meeting between the teams this season, which is already halfway gone. But Staal already has an idea how important the game is.
“I know we’ve been trying to catch them,” he said Saturday. “We’ve been looking up at them in the standings all season.”
The Wild has had almost unprecedented regular-season success against Chicago, having won seven in a row, including all five games last season. The playoffs, though, are a different matter. The Blackhawks have eliminated the Wild from the playoffs in three of the past four seasons, with the Wild going 3-12 vs. Chicago in those three series.
This first meeting comes with both teams battling for Western Conference supremacy. But, regular-season records aside, the Wild knows it is the Hawks who likely will provide the bar by which the Wild will be tested.
“It’s always a great test,” Zach Parise said. “You always feel they are the measuring stick, to see where you are. They’re always a threat in the playoffs, they’re always at the top of the division. So, I think we’ve put together, in our eyes, a pretty good rivalry with them. I know we haven’t had success against them in the playoffs. And it’s kind of weird, not having played them and we’re already 40-some games in. That will make it so exciting.”
Said goalie Devan Dubnyk: “Those games against Chicago, we always look forward to them. They’re always at the top of the league, and they are always emotional games. That we’re battling for first place? That just adds to it. And we’re going to be seeing them a lot in the next couple of months. So that’s 10 points that will be pretty big, pretty important when it comes to the standings.”
Sunday marks the two-year anniversary of Dubnyk’s Wild debut. When reminded of that Saturday, he shook his head.
“It feels like 10 years,’’ he said.
His journey to the Wild is well-documented. Acquired from Arizona for a third-round pick, Dubnyk took the red eye from Phoenix to New York, then got on a plane for Buffalo. He arrived in time for breakfast and for pregame skate.
“And then I had a really, really deep nap in the afternoon,’’ he said.
He was in net for a 7-0 victory in Buffalo. With the Wild, he is 81-42-11 with a 2.04 goals-against average, a .928 save percentage and 15 shutouts. In that time he leads the league in shutouts, save percentage and goals against among goalies with at least 75 games.
“It’s just been the best time of my career,” Dubnyk said. “And it’s crazy. It seems like a lot more than two years.”
In the spotlight
Sunday’s game is televised on NBC Sports Network. As part of the coverage Parise and Hawks star Patrick Kane will be featured in “Star Sunday.”
They will be featured in player arrivals, pregame interviews and studio analysis. An isolation camera will also follow them. The network debuted the feature in last Sunday’s Wild-Anaheim game, focusing on Ryan Suter and Ryan Kesler.