The Minnesota Wild are in Vancouver to take on the Canucks tonight in a battle for the Northwest Division lead. Currently, Minnesota is tied with Vancouver with 32 points. The Wild leads the Northwest Division, and holds the third spot in the Western Conference standings. Tonight is the fourth and final regular season meeting between these divisional rivals. In fact, this is the last time the Wild will face the Canucks as a divisional opponent. Beginning next year, realignment in the NHL will have the two teams in different divisions. That said, the Wild need to end this on a good note by smashing the Canucks in the mouth, shoving the puck down their throat and taking the two points for the outright division lead.
This evening’s game should be a really entertaining one with the Wild on a tear as of late, winning four of their last five games, and scoring 11 goals total in their last two. Wild Head Coach Mike Yeo will probably not make any lineup changes for tonight saying, “The lineup we had did a really good job last game.” That lineup includes a re-energized Pierre-Marc Bouchard, who had a goal and an assist against Colorado. Devin Setoguchi was on fire with two goals, an assist, and a plus-4 rating on the game. All in all, 11 players had a point or more for the Wild. That kind of play, speed, hard forecheck, good passing, and team toughness is needed tonight. Wild forward Dany Heatley says, “Now we have to keep it going. Vancouver is real good in their building and it’s going to be a real big one for us.”
Defensively, Minnesota has been playing well lately, rolling three solid pairings. The pair of Ryan Suter and Jonas Brodin has been lights out defensively and helping offensively as well. Suter leads all players on the Wild with 23 points (2 g, 21 a). With his performance this year, the Wild may have a legitimate Norris Trophy candidate. The other pairs, Jared Spurgeon-Clayton Stoner and Tom Gilbert-Justin Falk have looked good during this hot streak. Newly signed D-man Brett Clark hasn’t been in the line up yet, as Coach Yeo wants him to get a few practices in to learn the system before inserting him into game action. The play of the defense, and their ability to move the puck out of the defensive zone quickly and efficiently, has been key during the Minnesota run to third in the conference. They will have to be on top of things tonight as they face the always dangerous Pinky and The Brain, also known as Henrik Sedin and Daniel Sedin. Those two have torched the Wild in the past. The Sedins have a total of 109 pts (29 g, 90 a) in their careers against Minnesota. Another Canucks player, Ryan Kesler, has fared well historically against the Wild. He’s out on IR with a broken foot though, so no worries about him tonight for the Wild “D”.
The Wild have not fared well in Vancouver over the last few years. That’s to put it mildly for sure, considering they have lost the vast majority of their games in Vancouver’s Rogers Arena. Minnesota last won in Vancouver January 31, 2009, a span of 49-1/2 months. But that was then–this is now–and a tougher Wild team has come a-calling. Head Coach Mike Yeo says, “It’s the toughness of our group, sticking up for yourself or for teammates. It’s also the mental toughness to go out and execute and focus on your game.” Minnesota needs to be tough and disciplined tonight. They need to start the game quick, and match the Canucks hit-for-hit and shot-for-shot. Niklas Backstrom–the Wild’s workhorse–will be in goal tonight. The forward lines should look the same as the last game. Those being Zach Parise-Mikko Koivu-Charlie Coyle, Matt Cullen-Devin Setoguchi-Pierre-Marc Bouchard, along with the line of Kyle Brodziak-Cal Clutterbuck-Dany Heatley. That leaves the energy line of Zenon Konopka-Jason Zucker-Torrey Mitchell. Big Mike Rupp will not be able to go tonight due to a lower body injury suffered in a fight against the Avalanche. Zucker gets back into the lineup after missing 2 games after Corey Perry’s illegal hit. The Wild have a big task in front of them tonight, one they can accomplish. Put the coffee on an get ready for a late night. Puck drop is 9 pm Minnesota Time (CST). GonePuckWild.com will be back after the action with analysis and a game recap. Until then, this is Scott Drain saying Let’s Go Wild!!