The Minnesota Wild take on the St. Louis Blues tonight at the Xcel Energy Center with puck drop scheduled for 7 pm Central Time, The Wild are fresh off a Shootout win over the Boston Bruins that clinched the top Wild Card Spot in the Western Conference for the Minnesota Squad. The Blues come to St. Paul having clinched a playoff spot but they are still trying to claim the Central Division title and the best record/most points in the Western Conference and possibly the Presidents Trophy for best record in the NHL. What this mean for the Minnesota Wild is that the St. Louis Blues are going to be coming out hard and fast tonight. St. Louis still has things to play for and see the Wild as a bump in the road to achieving those goals. The Blues, with a total of 111 points and 3 games to play, are two points ahead of the Colorado Avalanche in the Central Division title race and one point back of the Anaheim Ducks for tops in the Western Conference. The Wild’s goals are; 1) staying/getting healthy for the first round of the playoffs, 2) getting players who have not been in the lineup recently some playing/tuneup time before playoffs, 3) keeping top players in top gear heading into first round of playoffs. That said, the Minnesota Wild aren’t writing this game off by any means.
The Blues have been a thorn in the Wild’s side for some time now, for starters taking all four meetings this season, 3 in regulation one in OT. St. Louis has outscored Minnesota 13 to 4 over the four games and killed off all 15 power play chances the Wild have had while scoring on 3 out of 11 man advantage opportunities of their own. The Blues are also the only Central Division team the Wild have not beaten this season. In recent history, St. Louis beat Minnesota in all 3 meetings last season going 2-0-1. You have to go back to November 19th of 2011 for a Wild victory over the Blues, a 3-2 shootout win in St. Paul. The Wild also won the first meeting that season, a 2-1 win on November 5th with a 2-1 final. The Blues then took the final 2 meetings that season and all 7 tilts since that time for a total of 9 straight beatings of the Minnesota Wild. It’s high time that streak ended and this is just the team to get the job done.
John Curry will be making his debut in net for the Minnesota Wild this season. He has a total of 4 games of NHL experience, all with the Pittsburgh Penguins in the 2008-09 and 2009-10 seasons. In those games he compiled a goals against average of 3.79 and a .868 save %. He has spent most of this season with the Orlando Solar Bears of the ECHL.
The top line for the Minnesota Wild will be unchanged with Parise and Coyle centered by Mikko Koivu. The Wild captain will be playing in his 600th NHL game this evening and would like nothing more to celebrate it by beating the St. Louis Blues. Koivu debuted for Minnesota back in the 2005-06 season. His 599 NHL games played has him ranked 2nd on the Wild’s all time games played list, trailing only Nick Schultz with 743 games played. The 3rd and 4th forward lines for tonight will look a bit different as Dany Heatley and Mike Rupp return to the lineup. Justin Fontaine and Stephane Veilleux will be healthy scratches tonight. Rupp is going to definitely add some muscle and much needed grit to the lineup. It’ll be interesting to see if the Blues keep up their physical ways with the Wild with Rupp back in the lineup and Cody McCormick now on the team. Those two should be able to handle anything St. Louis throws at Minnesota tonight. David Backes likes to see himself as a tough guy especially if it’s a smaller or less physical player he’s going up against such as Jared Spurgeon or Mikael Granlund. He didn’t fare so well against Clayton Stoner in that category however. Backes is out of the St. Louis lineup tonight nursing an injured hand, so his yappy presence will be missing from the ice. Rupp and McCormick will also be responsible for policing the likes of Ryan Reaves (124 PIM), Steve Ott (76 PIM), Vladimir Sobotka (72), Breandan Morrow (76 pim), ans Barret Jackman (95 PIM). TForward lines for the Minnesota Wild tonight are projected to be:
Of course the lines are subject to change by Wild Head Coach Mike Yeo as the game progresses and performances warrant.
On the defensive side tonight marks the NHL debut of Christian Folin, the college free agent signed by the Wild on March 31st after the end of his sophomore season at UMass Lowell. The native of Gothenburg, Sweden stands 6′ 3″ and weighs in at 215 lbs making him the tallest and heaviest D-man on the Wild roster just ahead of Clayton Stoner (who is currently on IR). He is reported to posess a heavy shot and skates well for a big man. When asked about his firt NHL game he said, “It’s going to be a lot of fun, I’ll have a big smile on my face. I’m looking forward to it!” The pairs will be shaken up tonight with the absence of Spurgeon and Dowell. Both are out for maintenence and rest reasons. The pairing for tonight will be:
Ryan Suter – Christian Folin
These defensive pairs will have their hands full with the likes of Alenander Steen (33g, 27a), T.J. Oshie (21g, 39a) David Backes (27g, 30a)and Jaden Schwartz (24g, 31a). The biggest area the Minnesota Wild need to improve against the St. Louis Blues, besides the obvious need for more goals, is special teams. The 0 for 15 on the play needs to change as well as the 73% success rate on the penalty kill. Minnesota also needs to attempt more shots. They can’t afford to wait for the “perfect” shot to magically appear or keep making that next pass to get a “better” shot lane. Put the puck on net, especially from the point and create some chaos in front of the Blues net minder. Defensively the Wild need to move the puck out of the offensive zone quickly and try to jump start the offense through the neutral zone. The Wild have the personnel to get the job done tonight, there is no doubt about that, especially given the two victories over the top two teams in the Eastern Conference the last two games. i’ll be back after the action with a recap and analysis of Wild vs Blues Round 5. Until next time this is Scott Drain Screaming like a mad man through a gorgeous spring evening, “LET’S GO WILD!! BEAT THE BLUES!! LET’S GO WILD BEAT THE BLUES!!!”