The Minnesota Wild are down to their last 3 games of the 2013 regular season and sit precariously in 7th place in the Western Conference. Tonight they take on the defending Stanley Cup Champion Los Angeles Kings, as they try to gain some separation from 8th place Columbus. The Wild and Blue Jackets are tied with 51 points but Minnesota claims 7th on tie-breakers. The Wild still control their own destiny in the playoff race, having a game in hand on Columbus, a one point lead on 9th place Detroit and a three point cushion from 10th place Dallas. Minnesota trails 6th place St. Louis by three points and 5th place San Jose by 4 points. This evenings opponent, the 4th seeded Kings, lead the Wild by 6 points in the Western Conference standings and have already clinched a spot in this year’s Stanley Cup Playoffs. What it comes down to for the Minnesota Wild is win and keep playing into May or lose and finish a slide out of the playoffs altogether. Minnesota controls their own destiny over the last three games of the regular season. Tonight’s opponent is the last the Wild will face ahead of them in the standings. Friday and Saturday the Wild face the Oilers and the Avalanche, finishing the season against two of the three bottom teams in the west.
Minnesota made some roster moves on Monday bringing some more veteran presence to the team. Goal tender Josh Harding is returning after a two game conditioning stint with the Houston Aeros. Harding has been out of action since February 12th as doctors adjusted his medications for multiple sclerosis (MS). Two other veteran players called up are Stephane Veilleux and Jake Dowell. Veilleux is a veteran of 382 games with the Wild during a 10 year career in the NHL. During that time he’s scored 46 goals, added 55 assists and compiled 317 penalty minutes. Veilleux has also played in 11 playoff games for the Wild during the 2006 and 2007 Stanley Cup Playoffs. Jale Dowell has played 154 career NHL games with the Blackhawks and Stars scoring 11 goals and adding 22 assists. During that time he has totaled 133 penalty minutes and a +5 career +/- rating. These two call ups are designed to give the Wild a more veteran presence and some grit as the push toward the post season continues. To make room on the roster rookies Darcy Kuemper, Mikael Granlund and Jason Zucker head south to the Aeros. In addition to these personnel changes forward Mike Rupp is listed as day to day with a lower body injury. Wild Head Coach Mike Yeo had no updates on anyone’s injury status after practice Monday.
The Kings are playing very well right now winning 4 of their last 5, but have struggled recently on the road losing 4 straight away from the Staples Center. The Wild must take advantage of this tonight, as Minnesota needs any advantage they can find. Tonight is the third game of the season series between these two squads, with the home team taking the victory each time. To date the Kings have been allowing an average of 2.38 goals a game to the Wild’s 2.60. Offensively the Kings score an average of 2.80 goals a night while the Wild produce slightly less at 2.49 per game. The key to this match up for Minnesota is scoring the first goal. The Wild are 16-4-1 when the score first, conversely they are 8-14-2 when they give up the first score. This means puck control is going to be paramount tonight. The offense is going to have to forecheck hard, gain control of the puck and shoot, shoot, shoot! The offensive lines for tonight appear to be:
As you can see Konopka is expected to return to action tonight after missing several games due to a broken foot. Stephane Veilleux is also available and if Konopka isn;t ready look for the hard hitting red-head flying around the ice.
Defensively the pairing tonight will look a bit different with Justin Falk returning to action after a couple games watching from the press box. Look for him to be skating with Jared Spurgeon. That puts Brett Clark and Nate Prosser on the healthy scratch list. The top pair consisting of rookie and Calder Trophy contender Jonas Brodin along with Norris Trophy leading candidater Ryan Suter will be munching minutes against the Kings. Heading into tonight’s action Suter has 28 assists and 32 points total which ranks 2nd among all NHL defensemen. He averages a league leading 27:06 of ice time per game. Brodin leads all rookies in average ice time at 23:07 per game. The final pair is Tom Gilbert and Clayton Stoner. This pair has a combined 21 points and a -5 rating this season. Their play can range from brilliant to horrible, just hope the brilliant side shows up against the Kings.
Niklas Backstrom will get the start in goal once again. He has started 28 of the last 30 games for the Wild and is tied for 2nd in the league with 22 wins. The Wild’s workhorse has played well lately, the problem has been goal support from his teammates. I tough to get the W when you only get 1-2 goals from your offense. His opponent in net will be Jamie Quick who is 17-12-4 on the year with a 2.44 goals against average and a .901 save %. The Wild are going to have to get the first goal tonight and force the Kings to play from behind all night long. The special teams battle will be critical as well. The Wild have had trouble connecting on the power play lately, a trend they must reverse if they are to stay in the playoff hunt. Playing responsibly and not taking stupid penalties will go a long way toward victory at the xcel Energy Center tonight. Puck drop os slated for 7pm with the Wild wearing special camo jerseys during warm ups. Those jerseys will be auctioned off with proceeds benefiting the Minnesota Wild Foundation and Defending the Blue Line. I’ll be back after the action with a full recap of the game and some post battle analysis. Until then this is Scott Drain chanting, “LET’S GO WILD!!!”