The Minnesota Wild returns home after a four-game stretch outside of the State of Hockey. Tonight, the club hosts the Tampa Bay Lightning at Xcel Energy Center. It is the second and final meeting against the Lightning, losing the first matchup in Tampa Bay, 3-1, on Oct. 17.
Minnesota took four points on its recent trip out West, starting hot by earning an overtime point in San Jose and winning in Anaheim. However, a pair of tough second periods put the Wild down Colorado and Calgary. The team rallied in the third period of each game, forcing overtime against the Flames for a point.
Yesterday, Zach Parise was named the National Hockey League’s First Star for his stellar road trip. After being notified that he’d be captaining the U.S. Olympic Team, he went on an absolute tear, scoring eight points (3-5=8) in three games. Parise looks to stay hot along with his linemates, Mikael Granlund and Jason Pominville. In the four periods they’ve played together, the trio has accounted for 10 points (3-7=10).
Defenseman Jared Spurgeon is expected to return to the lineup tonight. The blueliner was injured while blocking a shot on Jan. 2 against Buffalo and has been out of the lineup since, missing 14 games. He began practicing with the team on the road last week. In 43 games, Spurgeon has 12 points (1-11=12) and a plus-6 rating. The biggest impact that he could have is on the power play, where the right-handed defenseman gives the Wild more flexibility at the point.
Tonight, goaltender Darcy Kuemper will have the chance to bounce back after facing a little adversity in his last two outings on the road. Since being recalled in January, Kuemper is 6-2-2 with a 2.31 goals-against average and .927 save percentage. In his last two starts, however, he was pulled against the Avalanche in the second period and suffered an overtime loss against the Flames. Wild Head Coach Mike Yeo will give the netminder a chance to rebound at home after the long road trip.
After falling behind by two goals on Saturday, the Wild rallied against the Flames to force overtime, but eventually lost in the extended period, 4-3. Minnesota got on the board on a Matt Cooke shorthanded goal, his ninth tally of the season. Dany Heatley scored on a third-period power play and Keith Ballard sent the game into overtime with his second goal of the week. However, Mikael Backlund dashed the Wild’s hope to steal two road points at the 2:25 mark in OT. Goaltender Darcy Kuepmer made 28 saves in the loss.
The Lightning won in overtime against the Montreal Canadiens, 2-1, on Saturday. Nate Thompson scored in regulation and won it in overtime. Goaltender Ben Bishop made 28 saves for the win.
Meet the Bolts
The Lightning closes out a four-game road trip tonight. Tampa Bay is 1-2-0 on the current trip and has gone from a tie atop the Atlantic Division with the Boston Bruins, to trailing by four points. The Bolts have won only five of its last 10 games.
Lightning defenseman Victor Hedman has been piling up the points, scoring two in each of the past two games and 10 points in his past five.
If You’re Going
Tonight and Thursday, fans can bid on a few of the Wild players’ favorite things. A silent auction for baskets made by the players and their wives and girlfriends can be found on the main concourse near Section 104. Fans can bid from the time the doors open until the start of the third period. All proceeds will benefit the Wild Foundation.
Granlund has a five-game point streak (2-6=8), tied for the longest of his career. The center led the Wild with 12 points (2-10=12) in January (14 games).
Probable Wild Lineup
If Spurgeon returns, one blueliner will have to come out:
Between the Pipes
This will be Kuemper’s first time facing Tampa.
Yeo Quote of the Day
It’s nice to get back on home ice. Our last home game was Chicago and it feels like that was a month ago. We’ve got to get mentally focused, mentally prepared. We always talk about that first game back after a road trip. Certainly we’ve got a tough opponent coming in here.
- Yeo on returning home after four games
View From the Press Box
Honorary State of Hockey Resident
D Brian Lee is a native of Moorhead. LW Ryan Malone played four seasons at St. Cloud State (199-03). RW J.T. Brown hails from Burnsville and played two seasons at University of Minnesota-Duluth (2010-12).
The Wild earned its first-ever franchise win, 6-5 against Tampa Bay at Xcel Energy Center (10/18/00).
Wild vs. Tampa Bay will be broadcast locally in high definition on FOX Sports North with a start time at 7 p.m. The game can be heard on KFAN 100.3 FM or online at Wild.com.
After the game, the fifth episode of "Becoming Wild" presented by Toyota, will air featuring forward Zach Parise.
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