The Minnesota Wild face off against the San Jose Sharks in the Shark Tank tonight. With a win the Wild would tie the Sharks in points and move into 5th in the Western Conference on a tie breaker. Another game with implications for the Wild is LA vs Columbus. A Kings loss would allow the Wild to catch them while a Blue Jackets victory would have them keeping pace with the Wild. The Western Conference is jammed with 4th through 8th places spanning just 4 points. Enough about that. What it comes down to for Minnesota is they have to win to keep pace or move up. Tonight is their next to last road game of the season and their first in San Jose since the end of game altercation that sidelined Dany Heatley for the rest of the season. The Wild have a big task in front of them as the Sharks have been tough to beat at HP Pavilion going 15-1-5 this season. Meanwhile the Wild have been average on the road this year with a 10-11-1 record. Throw the records out the window tonight as the Wild are gonna come in pissed off over the last visit to the Shark Tank.
The Wild have been scoring as of late totaling 11 goals over their last three games. We won’t go into the two games prior to that. It’s time to look ahead, the past doesn’t score any goals against the Sharks tonight. The Wild will need another quick start, scoring the games first goal, to keep San Jose back on their heels. The Wild’s forward lines for tonight should be the same as the last couple of games. Speed has been a key component throughout the 4 lines. tonight the lines will most likely be:
Mike Rupp sat out last game after aggravating a prevoius injury paving the way for Mikael Granlund. The rookie potted his first goal since opening night for Minnesota and added some more speed to the fourth line. Clutterbuck took over for the injured Zenon Konopka who is out with a broken foot. Konopka and Rupp provided a lot of toughness to the team and both could return to action soon giving Wild Head Coach Mike Yeo some tough decisions to make. A total of 14 healthy forwards to choose from woud definately be a nice luxury this late in the season. Bouchard and Parise have both been hot lately and are riding three game point streaks.
Defensivley the Wild has been solid as of late but not great. The short rest and back to back games showed with Calgary and Edmonton making games close with multiple goals in the 3rd periods. That is a trend that can’t continue into tonight’s game. Minnesota will need a full 60 minutes from their defensemen tonight. The Sharks average 2.35 goals a game while allowing 2.33 that compares favorably to the Wild’s 2.56 scored to 2.49 allowed. The top defense pair of Ryan Suter and Jonas Brodin will need to be on their game tonight along with the second pair of Jared Spurgeon and Brett Clark. The goalie match up tonight is a great one. Niklas Backstrom and Antti Niemi are tied for the league lead in wins with 22 each. Goals will be hard to come by tonight. Backstrom sports a 2.40 goals against and a 9.12 save % that compares to Niemi’s 2.12 goals against and .926 save %. Special teams may well be the deciding factor in tonight’s game. Staying out of the penalty box is paramount for the Wild. San Jose’s power play scores at a 19.1% clip compared to the Wild’s 18.3%. Minnesota kills penalties at 82.7% rate compared to San Jose’s 4th ranked 86.1% Simply put, keep your feet moving and draw some penalties if your’e the Wild. Don’t get too caught up in any extra curricular activity, let the Sharks take those penalties. Punish them by scoring on them. I don’t mean sit there and take it just don’t be stupid about it, there’s too much on the line. If you do however get the chance to crush Marc-Edouard Vlasic, the owner of one of the stupidest nicknames in the league with “Pickles”, take it and leave him a smear on the boards. Just make it a clean hit, a hard hit, a memorable hit.
San Jose has hopes of catching and passing the LA Kings to get home ice in the 1st round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. The Wild are within striking distance for that spot as well. Neither the Sharks or Wild have any real chance of catching their division leaders so the 4th spot is the obtainable goal. Tonight the Wild need to play their game, control the puck, and limit chances for San Jose. A heavy forechecking presence and quick, concise defensive puck movement out of the defensive zone are paramount. The motto for the Wild is “Win and you’re in”. This is an exciting time to be a Wild fan and a NHL fan is general. It’s going to come down to the last games on the last day of the regular season to see who makes the 2013 Stanley Cup Playoffs. GonePuckWild.com will be with you every step of the way as the Minnesota Wild make their run to the post season. I’ll be back after the game with a full recap and analysis. Until then this is your intrepid Game Day Correspondent Scott Drain shouting, “Let’s Go Wild!!”