The Minnesota Wild are in Boston tonight for the first game of an East Coast Eastern Conference three game road trip. They face a Bruins squad that has won 8 straight games heading into this nationally televised game on the NBS Sports Network (NBCSN). The Wild are 35-22-10 overall and have a record of 12-15-5 on the road. Currently Minnesota is in 4th place in the Central Division with a 5 point lead on 5th place Dallas. In the Western Conference Wild Card race, the only route to the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the Wild, they lead Dallas and Phoenix by 5 points and Vancouver by 9 points. Both the Stars and Wild have fifteen games left in the regular season and they have a game in hand on the Coyotes. Boston is leading the Atlantic Divison by 14 points over second place Montreal. Baring an epic collapse they are virtually assured a top two seed in the Eastern Conference. Meanwhile the Wild are going to have to battle hard for every point to maintain their lead in the chase for the top Wild Card Spot in the West. Historically the Wild have performed well, very well against the Bruins going 6-0-0 in Boston and 10-1-0 overall. One interesting fact about this matchup is Boston has never score a power play goal against Minnesota. Hopefully that will not change tonight.
Tonight is Charlie Coyle‘s homecoming of sorts as he faces the team he grew up cheering for and dreamed of skating for growing up in the Boston area. There will be a large contingent of family and friends in attendance tonight to see Charlie in action. He will be skating on the third line with Kyle Brodziak and Matt Cooke. The top line for the Wild will remain intact with Zach Parise and Jason Pominville teamed with center Mikael Granlund. The second liners tonight are Matt Moulson and Nino Niederreiter centerd by Mikko Koivu. Tonight fourth line consists of Dany Heatley and Justin Fontaine with Erik Haula at center.
Defensively the top two pairings for Minnesota are unchanged with Ryan Suter along side Jared Spurgeon. The second pair remains Jonas Brodin and Marco Scandella. The third pair this evening is Clayton Stoner skating with Keith Ballard. Nate Prosser is the healthy scratch tonight as Head Coach Mike Yeo rotates personnel in and out of the third D-pair. The defense is going to have their hands full tonight against a Boston squad that has scored 213 goals and has the NHL’s third highest scoring average at 3.18 goals per game. Minnesota averages just 2.34 an outing on a total of 157 goals. Defensively the teams are much close with the Bruins allowing 2.13 goals on average to the Wild’s 2.34. Minnesota is going to have to put forth one of their best defensive efforts tonight is they want to take the win in the first game of this road trip.
As I mentioned earlier the Bruins have never scored a power play goal against the Wild. So far this season the Wild penalty kill is at 80.6% while the Bruins kill of penalties at an 83.6% rate. Minnesota is going to have to limit their time in the penalty box and keep their feet moving to force Boston into taking more penalties. The Wild power play sits at 18.3% while the Bruins convert at a 20.5% rate. Winning the special teams battle is going to go a long way toward a victory for the Wild tonight.
Darcy Kuemper will be starting in goal bringing a record of 12-4-4 and a goals against average of 2.19 into the fray tonight. He has a save percentage of .924 so far this season. This will be Kuemper’s first career start against the Boston Bruins. His teammates are going to have to keep limiting shots by the opposition. The Wild allow just 28 shots a game on average. Puck control is going to be critical tonight for the Wild. If they fall into the trap of letting Boston get repeated shots during a single rush it’s going to be a long night. Minnesota’s defense is going to have to get the puck out of their zone quickly and jump start the offense to keep the pressure on the Bruins. All to often this season the Wild have allowed an opponent to take over a single period throwing a large amount of shots on goal and dictating play forcing the Wild into mistakes or penalties. That can’t happen tonight. Boston has the ability to put up goals in a hurry and they also have the #1 Wild killer in their lineup, Jarome Iginla. He has scored more points against the Wild than any other opponent in the teams history. Iginla has totaled 65 points, 35 goals and taken 231 shots, simply put he loves playing against the Wild. He also has 3 hat tricks agsinst Minnesota. Iginla will also be skating in his 1300th NHL game tonight. That total is beyond impressive, that run of games started back in the 1996-97 season when he broke in with the Calgary Flames skating in 82 games as a rookie. The Wild’s all time games played leader is Nick Shultz with 743. The Wild have had players pass the 1000 game mark while with the team, Keith Carney and Matt Cooke are the last two.
The Wild need to go into Boston tonight and play a solid puck possession game, limit penalties, and establish and early lead. that of course is easier said than done but with the deepest team in Wild history and a pretty healthy squad as well they can do it. Don’t forget the game is on the NBC Sports Network (NBCSN) tonight not Fox Sports North if you plan on watching the action. I’ll be back after the game with a recap and analysis. Until then this is Scott Drain shouting out loud and proud, “Let’s Go Wild!!”