The Minnesota Wild take on the Pittsburgh Penguins at 7 pm Central Time in the friendly confines of the Xcel Energy Center in snowy St. Paul Minnesota. The Wild are locked in a fierce battle for the top Wild Card spot in the Western Conference with the Phoenix Coyotes and the Dallas Stars. Entering play today the Minnesota Wild, with 90 points, have a 4 point lead over Phoenix and a 5 point lead over Dallas. The Wild have, including tonight, 5 games left in the regular season. The Stars have 6 to play and the Coyotes just 4 games to go. To put it simply, win and they’re in, that’s the Wild’s strategy for the rest of the regular season. Tonight that’s easier said than done with the Metropolitan Division leading Penguins. They have a total of 103 points and a 12 point lead over the second place New York Rangers with 5 games to play and a game in hand over New York. The Pens have clinched the Metropolitan Division and have 8 fewer points than the Boston Bruins who have clinched the Atlantic Division. Mathematically Pittsburgh could still catch Boston, but practically the chances of that are slim and none and slim has just suffered a season ending concussion.
The Minnesota Wild have been playing very well the last 4 games, earning 5 of a possible 8 points on the road trip. Minnesota now finishes the regular season with 4 of 5 games, including the last three straight, on home ice. Tonight once again Minnesota Wild shake up the forward lines with Nino Niederreiter and Cody McCormick back in the lineup. Dany Heatley, Mike Rupp, Jake Dowell and newly signed Christian Folin will be the healthy scratches tonight. The injury list includes, Mikael Granlund (head), Jason Zucker (quad/surgery), Josh Harding (MS), and Niklas Backstrom (surgery). The forward lines tonight appear to be:
The Minnesota Wild have been very good at home this season posting a record of 23 wins to 9 losses and 5 OT or Shootout losses. Overall the Wild are 39-26-12. The Pittsburgh Penguins are 22-14-3 on the road with overall marks of 49-23-5. Tonight the Wild are going to need to get off to a quick start and work hard to keep sustained puck control throughout the game. Scoring the games first goal will also help to keep the Pens back on their heels and force them to chase and take chances. Ilya Bryzgalove will get the start between the pipes. He’s undefeated in regulation for the Minnesota Wild since being acquired at the trade deadline. Bryzgalov puts that 4-0-3 record on the line tonight against one of the best the East has to offer. With the Wild he has a 2.11 goals against average and .911 save %, some pretty impressive numbers. I just hope he stays healthy. The Wild have suited up a team record 7 goal tenders so far this record season.
Defensively the Wild will have their hands full with the usual suspects. Sidney Crosby (36g, 66a), Evgeni Malkin (23g, 49a), Chris Kunitz (35g, 32a), James Neal (24g, 31a) and Jussi Jokinen (18g, 35a), That’s the Pittsburgh players with 50 or more points. That list for the Wild is just 2 players long with Jason Pominville 27g, 26a) and Zach Parise (28g, 23a). Captain Mikko Koivu has 49 points on 10 goals and assists. The Wild’s defensive pairings will remain the same as last game, those being:
Ryan Suter and Jared Spurgeon
Jonathan Blum and Marco Scandella
The massive amount of talent on the Pittsburgh forward lines means an opposing team can’t focus on a top line only. The Penguins can roll four lines, each with the ability to score on any given shift. The team with the fewest penalties is going to win tonight’s battle. The Wild PK units are killing off 79.2% while the Wild power play is scoring at a 18.1% pace. Those numbers rank 27th and 14th in the NHL respectively. Pittsburgh has the leagues 2nd best power play, scoring at a 23.3% clip. Their PK is ranked 4th at 85.3%. Those are a couple of impressive special teams units and the Minnesota Wild will have their work cut out for them tonight. The Wild defenders are going to have to make sure they are making quick, accurate and decisive first passes up the ice after gaining control of the puck in the defensive zone. The Wild forecheckers are also going to have to be aggressive and relentless on the Penguin forwards forcing them to make passes under duress creating turnovers on inaccurate and rushed pass attempts.
The Minnesota Wild are going to have to play a desperate, high energy game if they want to take 2 points from Pittsburgh this evening. I’ll be back after the action with a reacap and some analysis. You can catch some in game commentary from ; Gone Puck Wild myself, Dakota Case, and Ger Devine on Twitter at, @Dakota_Case, @DrainScott, @GerDevine and of course @FSGonePuckWild. We’ve also just unveiled our redesigned Facebook page. Please check it out as well and give us a “like”, we’d really appreciate that! Until next time this is Scott Drain shrieking like a madman into the St. Paul sun splashed springtime, “LET’S GO WILD, LET’S GO WILD!!”