The Minnesota Wild put their 4 game win streak on the line tonight against the Colorado Avalanche in a Central Division battle of the third and fourth place teams. A win would move the Wild to within 4 points of the third place Avalanche. Minnesota is trying to close the gap with the top three teams in the division. A win tonight would help that effort. This is the fourth meeting of the season between Minnesota and Colorado. The Wild are 1-1-1 so far and are looking for the two points and their second win against the Av’s since December. The Wild have been winning without some of their biggest stars in the lineup. Mikko Koivu and Zach Parise are both out for the foreseeable future. Parise with a broken foot and Koivu with a broken ankle. Defensively Jared Spurgeon is on IR with a lower body injury and no timetable for his return. Perhaps the biggest loss right now is goal tender Josh Harding who has been out with an illness. Niklas Backstrom has been playing well as of late and the Wild also got a great performance from Darcy Kuemper during this win streak, but Harding has been the workhorse and clear cut #1 net minder for Minnesota this season. Harding was on the ice this morning but is still not up to game strength. While Backstrom is in net tonight it’s not clear who will be starting in goal tomorrow in Nashville.
The goal tending match up tonight features Backstrom who is 5-9-2 on the season with a 3.02 goals against average and a .902 save %. He has been in goal for 3 of the 4 wins in the Wild’s current streak. Across the ice will be either Semyon Varlamov or J.S. Giguere. Varlamov was in net for Colorado’s overtime loss to the Islanders Friday night and has a 20-8-5 record to go with a 2.36 goals against and save % of .926. Giguere has a record of 7-4-0 with a goals against of 2.65 and a .911 save %. I wouldn’t be at all surprised to see Giguere get the start tonight given his excellent career record against the Wild.
The youngsters in the Wild lineup have been getting the job done lately scoring big goals in the last four games including Justin Fontaine‘s hat trick last game against Phoenix. They will have to keep up the great play both offensively and defensively if the Wild are to continue their winning streak tonight. The forward lines for tonight look to be the same as last game with Charlie Coyle, Jason Zucker and Dany Heatley on the top line. Nino Niederreiter, Jason Pominville and Mikael Granlund on the 21-year-old second line. Matt Cooke skates with Kyle Brodziak and Justin Fontaine on line number three and the fourth line has Torrey Mitchell and Stephane Veilleux with Erik Haula. We’ll see how these lines fare tonight with the Wild playing the first of back to back games. Right after tonight’s game they fly to Nashville for a game with the Predators Sunday evening, their second divisional game in a row. While these line combinations have produced wins the last few games they have struggled to get shots on net. During this four game win streak the Wild have been out shot 130 to 88 and have been relying on outstanding goal tending to take command of the games.
Defensively the Wild will go with the same defensive pairings that have been working as of late. Ryan Suter will be skating with Jonas Brodin on the top pair while Marco Scandella and Nate Prosser make up the second pair. The final twosome is Clayton Stoner and Jonathon Blum. These pairs are going to be charged with shutting down the Avalanche offense that has scored 19 goals in their last 6 outings. While the Wild are dealing with some injury issues, The Avalanche have injury problems of their own with O’Reilly (14g, 14a) and Tanguay (9g, 15a), two of their top 6 in points out of action on IR.
The Wild are going to have to take control of tonight’s game early on and get back to the puck control style of play that saw them having success earlier in the season. They have been winning lately with timely goals and great goal tending they can’t continue to allow teams to heavily out shoot them and continue this winning streak. I’ll be back after the game with a full recap and analysis of the evenings action. Until next time this is Scott Drain loudly chanting, Let’s Go Wild!!