Bring on the Canucks! The Minnesota Wild are in Vancouver for a battle with the Canucks. While no longer divisional rivals these are still teams that don’t like each other. The Wild took the first meeting of the season at the Xcel Energy Center with a 3-2 shootout win, the second and final meeting of the season is tonight at Rogers Arena. The Wild looked to be in fine form last night shutting out the Edmonton Oilers 3-0. This, however is not the Oilers the Wild face tonight. Vancouver is just 6 points behind Minnesota in the Western Conference Wild Card race. This is the second game of a back to back for the Wild as they dive back into NHL action after the Olympic break. Minnesota struggled mightily on the road earlier this season but has turned things around since the first of the year going 5-2-2 in their last 9 on the road. Overall the Wild have improved to 32-21-7, good for 71 points. They now trail Colorado by 8 points for third in the Central Conference. The Canucks are 28-24-9 and hold 4th place in the Pacific Division are currently our of the playoff picture. They trail Dallas by a point for the final Wild Card spot. Basically the Wild are in big game mode. They need every point they can get if they have any hope of catching the Avalanche.
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Captain Mikko Koivu will not be making his return tonight from his ankle surgery. That means the lineup will be the same as last night which proved to be rather effective. Minnesota had nine players with a point on the three goals scored. They will need that same kind of balanced effort against the Canucks. Vancouver averages 2.37 goals a game to Minnesota’s 2.36, that tells me this battle is going to come down to defense. The Wild allow just 2.38 goals on average to the Canucks 2.52. The Wild forward lines will need to be opportunistic against an aggressive, physical Canucks defense. The lines for Minnesota tonight are the same as in Edmonton with Zach Parise, Jason Pominville and Mikael Granlund on the top line. The second line which looked strong together last night is Nino Niederreiter with Charlie Coyle and Dany Heatley. The third liners charged with battling the Canucks top line will be Matt Cooke, Kyle Brodziak and rookie Justin Fontaine. Stephane Veilleux, who scored his second goal of the season against the Oilers is teamed with Erik Haula and Torrey Mitchell.
The defensive pairing will remain the same as well with Ryan Suter skating with Jared Spurgeon who had a great outing in Edmonton. The second pair is Jonas Brodin with Nate Prosser and the third pair is Clayton Stoner with Keith Ballard. Stoner will be in the lineup despite a gruesome left hand, finger dislocation suffered in a fight with the Oilers Guzdic. Stoner is as tough as they come and returned to action the folowing period with his finger taped up and ready to battle.
Now we move to the Wild goal tender for tonight. Is it really any surprise that Darcy Kuemper will be in goal again? He stopped 21 of 21 shots in route to his second shutout of the season last night and is now 9-3-2 on the season with a .921 save % and a goals against average of 2.29. Since returning to the Wild from Iowa in early January the rookie net minder has been nothing short of spectacular and a major reason Minnesota is in the playoff race. Across the ice from Kuemper will be Eddie Lack who shut out the St. Louis Blues in his last outing by a 1-0 final. Lack is 9-8-3 with a 2.11 goals against average and a save percentage of .924. This should be a good goal tender matchup and another indicator of a defensive battle tonight.
The Canucks to have some firepower in their lineup including the Sedin twins Henrik and Daniel who skate with Alexandre Burrows on Edmonton’s top line. In addition to that trio Ryan Kesler, the team’s only 20 goal scorer at this point in the season, is returning to action tonight after injuring his hand blocking a shot while playing in the Sochi Olympics. The Wild will need to contain these players and maintain good puck control if they want to pick up the two points tonight. Another area the Wild need to be careful in is the physical battles. These two teams have had some very physical games and altercations over the years and Minnesota’s players need to remain focused on putting the puck in the Canucks net on keeping it out of their own instead of being distracted by various physical activities. Not that they need to cower and not respond they just need to pick their spots carefully and hit hard and decisively. I’ll be back after the action with some analysis, a recap and opinion. Until then this is Scott Drain shouting out, “LET’S GO WILD!!”