Tonight the Minnesota Wild take on the Calgary Flames at the Saddle Dome. The Wild are trying to gain 2 precious points and solidify their spot in the Western Conference playoff race. Entering action tonight Minnesota is in 7th place with 47 points tied with the 8th place Red Wings. The Wild trail the 6th place Blues by a point and the 5th place sharks by just 2 points. By the way Dallas and Columbus are just two points behind the Wild in 9th and 10 with 45 points. A win to night will allow Minnesota to bypass the Blues and keep pace with the Sharks while gaining some separation from Detroit. The Western Conference is still a logjam and will remain that way until the final day of the regular season. For the Minnesota Wild the task is simple, win and you’re in. The time is now. Over the last 7 regular season games the Wild face Calgary and Edmonton twice and Colorado ones. All three of those teams are basically out of the Stanley Cup Playoff picture. The Wild’s opponent this evening the 14th place Flames have a record of 16-21-4 good for 36 points. Calgary raised the white flag on this season back at the trade deadline when they shipped Jarome Iginla to Pittsburgh and Jay Bouwmeester to St. Louis. Flames Head Coach Jay Feaster’s head in on the block and the guillotine blade is being raised while management looks at a potential top 3 draft pick. I’m “sure” no team would actually “tank” toward the end of the season to improve their draft position, but the Flames are in a good position to pick up some talent in the 2013 Entry Draft.
The best news for the Wild is the potential return of Matt Cullen to the lineup this evening. The second line has been in disarray to say the least since he went down with a lower body injury April 1st, missing 6 games. Cullen worked out hard at practice Sunday and Wild Head Coach Mike Yeo said, “He looked really good. Getting him back in our lineup would certainly give us a boost.” In his absence Devin Setoguchi‘s point production has gone in the toilet along with Pierre-Marc Bouchard‘s. Reuniting the Cullen-Setoguchi-Bouchard and or Jason Zucker line could and should provide some much needed scoring punch especially against a Calgary team that is giving up an average of 3.37 goals per game, the 2nd WORST in the NHL. Time for the top line of Mikko Koivu, Zach Parise and Charlie Coyle or Jason Pominville to make some hay as well. The offensive lines for tonight will see some shake ups if Cullen returns as expected. I’d expect the top 2 lines to look like the pre-trade deadline ones. The third line is a toss up as is the fourth.
Defensively I don’t see any changes coming from Saturday night. Suter is not 100% but he’s a warrior and will be there along with partner Jonas Brodin. Jared Spurgeon will be paired with Brett Clark or Clayton Stoner while Tom Gilbert will have Clark or Stoner. Gilbert’s game has noticeably improved since his games as a healthy scratch recently. My guess is that Nate Prosser and Justin Falk watch from the press box tonight. In goal of course will be Niklas Backstrom. His play has been great throughout the recent losing streak, it’s just hard to pick up wins with minimal to no goal support. Currently Backstrom is 20-12-3 with a goals against of 2.36 and a .914 save %. Calgary will put either Miikka Kiprusoff (6-13-2) or Joey MacDonald (7-6-1) in net tonight, neither goalie has exactly been on fire as of late so look for some goals for the Wild tonight.
Simply said this a game the wild should win. They have take 2 of 3 from the Flames this season, one in OT and one in a Shootout. The Wild will need to come out hard like they did in the first period against Columbus Saturday. Solid defensive efforts have been the norm for Minnesota throughout this recent slide. The offense is due to explode and tonight’s the night! Calgary has shown weakness defensively and winning the shots on goal battle will go along way toward 2 points in Calgary. These are playoff intensity game for Minnesota if they are to keep playing after April 27th. GonePuckWild.com will be back after the game with a review of the night’s activity. Until then this is Game Day Correspondent Scott Drain chanting, “LET’S GO WILD!”