Stars, Wild set for first meeting of season

DALLAS — As Central Division rivals, the Minnesota Wild and Dallas Stars know one another quite well. And after Minnesota defeated Dallas 4-2 in the Twin Cities on Dec. 27, the Stars are seeking a little payback on Saturday at American Airlines Center.

Dallas (29-19-4, 62 points), who won 4-1 at Arizona on Thursday, is an impressive 17-8-1 at home.

However, instead of seeing the Stars’ No. 1 goaltender, Ben Bishop, one of Dallas’ key additions last summer, on Saturday, the Wild will instead see backup netminder Kari Lehtonen.

That’s because Bishop had to leave Thursday’s road win after being struck in the side of the face and having to leave the ice in the third period.

Stars first-year coach Ken Hitchcock said after an optional practice on Friday that Bishop should return to practice on Sunday, but he is not in any shape to back up Lehtonen on Saturday.

“He’s feeling better today (Friday),” Hitchcock said of Bishop. “He won’t back up tomorrow (Saturday) but he’ll join us on Sunday for our practice. X-rays are negative, so that’s a good sign. Eye’s still swollen, but I think it’s best right now that we bring up a guy from the American Hockey League as a backup for (Lehtonen).”

Hitchcock said forward Antoine Roussel, out the past two games with a sinus issue, could return against the Wild, but said any decision won’t be made until after the morning skate on Saturday.

“Again, (he) practiced OK,” Hitchcock said of Roussel. “It’s how he feels two hours later, so we’ll see tomorrow. He’s getting better and better, but I don’t know that we can clear it right now until we see how he feels tomorrow morning.”

Dallas is 7-10-0 against the rest of the Central Division and if the Stars, who are 6-3-1 over their past 10 games, are to make some hay in the division, they will need to lean on 2018 NHL All-Star John Klingberg, who has points in 14 of his past 18 games and leads all league defensemen in points.

Young center Mattias Janmark, who has five points (four goals) over his past five games after missing last season with a knee injury, has also been delivering offense of late.

Hitchcock also offered updates on injured center Martin Hanzal (lower body) and defenseman Marc Methot (knee), who have both been out since before the NHL All-Star break but were already expected to have returned on Friday.

“(With) both guys, it’s really on again, off again. You get excited and then there’s a setback,” Hitchcock said of Hanzal and Methot. “Until we really put them in a full practice, they’re obviously days or a week away.”

Minnesota (28-18-5, 61 points) will not have a morning skate Saturday after defeating the Vegas Golden Knights 5-2 on Friday at Xcel Energy Center.

In that big win, which keeps Minnesota unbeaten against Vegas, something only one of two NHL teams can say, Wild defensemen Jonas Brodin and Matt Dumba combined for five assists, and Eric Staal had two goals and an assist.

Staal’s second goal was an empty-netter, awarded because he was hooked on a late-game breakaway.

“You don’t see that often, but I’ll take it,” Staal said of his second tally of the evening.

In the second period, Minnesota defenseman Ryan Suter picked up his 400th career assist when he set up Jared Spurgeon’s power-play goal. Suter is now the 11th defenseman in NHL history to register at least 200 points with two different teams.

The Wild took advantage of a Vegas team that was on the second night of a back-to-back.

“We knew they were tired and we were fairly well-rested,” Wild coach Bruce Boudreau said postgame. “We thought if we jumped on them we might be able to get a lead, and we did.”

Now, the shoe will be on the other foot as the Wild will be on the second game of a back-to-back tomorrow night. Minnesota is 3-4-1 on the tail end of back-to-backs this season and 10-4-1 on the road, so a win in Dallas isn’t out of the question.

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