The Minnesota Wild Battle the Edmonton Oilers tonight at Rexall Place looking for two more valuable points in the Western Conference playoff race. After picing up a victory in Calgary last night the Wild sit in 6th place with 47 points, they are a single point ahead of St. Louis in 7th and 2 points behind San Jose in 5th. The 4th to 9 spots span just 5 points, so every game, every point’s significance is magnified as this shortened regular season draws toward the final game. The Wild have just one focus, win games. Players and coaches alike say they are not paying much attention to how other teams are faring. That information is impossible for them to escape but they know that it’s “Win and You’re In” time. Minnesota’s playoff destiny is clutched in their own sweaty gloves. They got a big piece back last night when Matt Cullen returned to the lineup after missing six games. Two points down and a potential 12 to go. It’s time to take two from the lowly Oilers. Edmonton is a team in flux right now, they were boo’d off the ice after getting spanked by Calgary 4-1 on home ice Sunday. Then Monday they fired General Manager Steve Tambellini and replaced him with Craig MacTavish. The Oilers had high hopes as the season began but have languished toward the bottom of the Western Conference. They are currently 12th with just 39 points and a potential top five draft pick in their future. New GM MacTavish is promising swift changes to shape up this young Oilers’ team. The players should have something to prove to decide who gets to stay and be part of a promising future. The Wild need to take that exuberance and shove it back down their throats in front of their home fans in Rexall Place tonight.
Minnesota needs to keep scoring the first goal and forcing teams to play catch up with them. In the shootout loss Saturday and last night’s win the Wild scored first. They are now 15–4-1 when taking the initial lead. That’s a trend they must continue tonight vs the Oilers. Edmonton ranks 22nd in scoring with 2.37 goals a game on average. Their goals against is 19th at 2.73, both stats trail the Wild by several spots. The Oilers weakness is on defense and I’d expect the Wild’s offensive lines to look the same as last night. Those being:
The forward lines were firing on all cylinders last night and Head Coach Mike Yeo isn’t one to mess with success. The four goal outburst was a welcome change from the run of shutouts the team experienced earlier in April. Wild net minder Niklas Backstrom picked up his 21st win of the season last night and is expected back between the pipes tonight given his outstanding record against the Oilers over his career. Minnesota will have to come up with a better defensive effort overall than last night. The shut down the Flames for long periods but allowed them back into the game with a pair of goals in the latter stages of the 3rd period including one with 39 seconds to play. I’d expect the same defensive pairs for tonight with Ryan Suter and Jonas Bordin leading the way. Jared Spurgeon was paired with veteran Brett Clark while Clayton Stoner skated with Tom Gilbert. Look for an aggressive start by both teams and lots of physical play. The Wild need to win this one to keep pace in the West. GonePuckWild.com will be back after the anticipated victory with a recap and analysis. Until then this is Minnesota Wild Game Day Correspondent Scott Drain confidently shouting, “LET’S GO WILD!!”