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By Christian Tomas

Special to Wild.com
Feb. 27, 2009 | 10 a.m. EST

Confidence and a sense of urgency resonated throughout the Minnesota Wild’s victories over Detroit and Chicago last weekend. On Tuesday, the Wild also gained a point against the Los Angeles Kings in a 2-1 shootout loss.

During this 2-0-1 stretch, goaltending, secondary scoring and special teams helped the Wild tremendously.

These qualities, displayed on a consistent basis by the league’s playoff-bound teams, are expected to be a part of Minnesota’s agenda as the Wild embarks on a six-game, 11-day road trip.

* Josh Harding made 44 saves in a 2-1 win at Chicago, earning the confidence of coach Jacques Lemaire, who noticed Harding’s fastidious workouts of late. Harding, who earned his first win since Nov. 29, may have earned playing time in the process.

* Niklas Backstrom's 35-save performance nullified Detroit from making any kind of comeback in Saturday’s 5-2 win. Backstrom ranks among the top five in the NHL in goals-against average (2.20), save percentage (.926), shutouts (six) and wins (28).

* Peter Olvecky notched his first NHL goal and it stood as the game-winner against the Blackhawks, while Martin Skoula scored his first goal of the season against the Red Wings. Dan Fristche tipped in the equalizer during a Wild power play in Chicago. Fristche has two goals in his past five games and six points overall in 12 contests since coming over from the New York Rangers.  

* Owen Nolan seems to enjoy playing at Xcel Energy Center. In 25 home games this season, Nolan has scored 14 goals and 25 points. And he performs his best against the Red Wings (37 points in 48 career games against Detroit). On Saturday, Nolan recorded two goals and a gorgeous indirect assist using the boards to spring Pierre-Marc Bouchard for Bouchard’s 14th tally, good enough for No. 4 in the NHL’s Weekly Highlights. 

Nolan, though, is out to start the team's road trip after suffering a fractured toe against Chicago.

* Anti Miettinen, second on the team in points with 39, scored the Wild’s only goal on a shorthanded bid on Tuesday. The architect? Mikko Koivu, who set a career-high with 55 points. Miettinen also lined a shot through Jonathan Quick’s pads in the shootout, the Wild’s only goal in the extra session.

* Though Los Angeles defenseman Drew Doughty snapped Minnesota’s streak of 25 consecutive penalty kills on Tuesday, the Wild have scored four shorthanded goals over the past eight games. 

IN OTHER NEWS

* Because of a lower body injury, Andrew Brunette missed two games and had played 509 consecutive games before missing Saturday’s contest against Detroit. Brunette told Bruce Brothers of the Pioneer Press that his absence felt surreal.

* The Wild’s defensive style frustrated the Blackhawks, according to this Chicago Tribune recap.

* With three Finnish players on his roster, General Manager Doug Riesbrough would like the Wild to open the season in Finland next year.

* Marian Gaborik will take a much awaited physical on March 3, though Tom Powers of the Pioneer Press wonders about where the Wild would be in the standings with Gaborik in the line-up. When Gaborik scored, the Wild went 23-0-4 over the last 27 games dating back to last season. 

* Brent Burns notched two helpers against Detroit and now has four points in his last five matches. Burns, who has scored 24 points in 55 games this year, averages the second-most ice time for the Wild (22:27). Last season, Burns tallied 43 points and was a plus-12 in 82 games last season.

* Michael Russo of the Star Tribune spotted General Manager Doug Risebrough chatting it up with Toronto Maple Leafs GM Brian Burke.

* After missing 13 games with a head injury, Craig Weller returned against Detroit and skated 9:24.

* The Gillies family visited St. Paul and saw their son Colton score his first NHL goal last Thursday.

* Kurtis Foster, who is back with the Wild and traveling with the team, shared his experience in the AHL. Foster also made an encouraging phone call to a Michigan high school player who also broke his femur.

* According to Ryan Stanzel, the Wild has a road crew of about 50 season ticket holders to support the team in Calgary and Edmonton. Perhaps these lucky fans can also get a hold of NHL Star Helmets at a nearby McDonalds.

UP NEXT

* Minnesota will visit the red hot Calgary Flames (literally and figuratively) tonight at 8 p.m. The Flames own a 21-7-4 record at Pengrowth Saddledome and have earned points in eight consecutive games.  

Despite injuries to six different players, the Flames are still getting it done, still have a 10-point lead in the division and, to top it off, Jarome Iginla is back. Iginla tallied two goals in a 4-1 win over the Columbus Blue Jackets. Iginla is just two points shy of all-time Flames scoring leader Theo Fleury.

* On Saturday, the Wild will travel 172 miles north to Edmonton. Minnesota is 5-5-1 playing in back-to-back games this season. 

The Oilers are 14-11-4 at Rexall Place and wrap up a four-game stand with Minnesota and then fly out East for a four-game road trip that includes stops in Ottawa, Toronto and Montreal.

Ales Hemsky leads Edmonton with 19 goals and 51 points. 

The Oilers own the worst penalty kill in the division and second-worst in the Western Conference at 77.5 percent. By contrast, Minnesota is tops in the league at 87.8 percent.

NORTHWEST DIVISION

* First-year general manager Mike Gillis does not expect to make much noise at the trade deadline because the Vancouver Canucks have won eight of nine games as of Feb. 23. Gillis’ mind could change, though, after the Canucks lost Pavol Demitra to a broken finger in a 3-0 defeat to Montreal on Feb. 25.

Daniel Sedin leads Vancouver with 59 points and a plus-16 rating. He plays on a line with brother Henrik and Alex Burrows. 

Pierre LeBrun of ESPN.com reports that the Canucks are turning a corner in the West. Vancouver trails Calgary by 10 points in the division.

* With a 4-1 victory over the Washington Capitals last Friday, Colorado Avalanche head coach Tony Granato won his 100th game as an NHL head coach. Granato is the 10th American-born coach to accomplish that feat. The Avalanche have an 18-0 record when leading after two periods this season. 

Since that victory in Washington, however, Colorado has lost three straight on their six-game East Coast road trip, including a 3-0 defeat to the New Jersey Devils on Thursday. Paul Stastny returned in a 4-3 loss to Atlanta on Tuesday. Stastny had missed 26 games because of a forearm injury.

According to Jim Armstrong of the Denver Post, the Avalanche may be facing the inevitable by going into rebuild mode. Ryan Kennedy of The Hockey News also pointed to Colorado’s defense as one of the reasons to the Avs’ proverbial downfall.

* Roger Phillips of NHL.com breaks down the latest trade rumors in the Northwest.

TRADE PERSPECTIVES

* NHL.com has provided a helpful trade deadline Q&A as well as several must-read pieces on notable trade deadline deals:

* Two days before the March 4 trade deadline, the NHL Network will be offered in the United States via preview.

* Kevin Allen of USA Today presented his buyer’s and seller’s guide last Friday.

* George Laraque of the Montreal Canadiens admitted that he is not happy with his role or ice time, and asked for a trade. Mathieu Dandenault, according to TSN and sources, is in the same boat. The Canadiens dealt Steve Begin on Thursday to the Dallas Stars for Doug Janik in a move that frees up cap space for Montreal.

* Mike Keenan trusts Calgary GM Darryl Sutter in adding depth to the Flames roster. According to reports from CBC Sports, Sutter is eyeing Buffalo’s Tim Connolly or Anaheim’s Brendan Morrison to fill the roles vacated by center Daymond Langkow (hand injury) and Rene Bourque (high ankle sprain). And with Mark Giordano out, the team may seek a replacement on defense.  

TSN also believes that the Flames are expected to be buyers at the deadline.

* The Pittsburgh Penguins traded Ryan Whitney to the Anaheim Ducks for Chris Kunitz and prospect Eric Tangradi.

Bob McKenzie of TSN reported that the Ducks acquisition of Whitney does not change Chris Pronger’s status and that the 34-year-old Dryden, Ontario native will likely be moved at the deadline or better yet during the summer. 

Meantime, Kevin Allen of USA Today countered that acquiring Whitney gives the Ducks options an Pittsburgh has an affordable scoring winger.

* To that end, Edward Fraser of The Hockey News advised Washington General Manager George McPhee to go all in as the window of opportunity to win it all may be small. Just ask the Pittsburgh Penguins, who struggled to sign key role players in the offseason as a trip to the Stanley Cup Final raised salary demands.

* According to reports from TSN, the Ottawa Senators are likely to be sellers at the deadline for the first time in more than a decade. Ottawa acquired Mike Comrie and Chris Campoli from the New York Islanders on Feb. 20.

* Toronto General Manager Brian Burke wants at least a first-rounder for smooth-skating defenseman Tomas Kaberle.

AROUND THE NHL

* The New York Rangers became the third team this month to hire a new coach. Rangers General Manager Glen Sather chose John Tortorella to replace Tom Renney. Jim Cerny of Rangers.com captured Tortorella’s first practice with the Rangers. In Torterella’s debut, the Rangers earned a point in a 2-1 shootout loss to Toronto on Wednesday and then fell, 2-1, to the Florida Panthers last night.

* According to the Arizona Republic, the city of Glendale has been bailing out the Phoenix Coyotes by giving them seven months of free rent. Olli Jokinen netted a hat trick and his 500th point. The Coyotes are also giving fans a chance to bid to be part of the 2008-2009 team photo.

* Ed Willes of the Vancouver Province argued for a 26-team league over the status quo.

* In his first game back from his respite, Alex Kovalev scored a goal and added two assists in a 5-3 Montreal Canadiens win over the Ottawa Senators last Saturday.

* Martin Brodeur made his first start for the New Jersey Devils since elbow surgery four months ago and shut out the Colorado Avalanche, 4-0, with 24 saves.  

This also meant that GM Lou Lamoriello sent down unsung hero Scott Clemmensen, who posted 25 wins in 40 appearances, a .917 save percentage and a 2.39 goals against average.

Zach Parise scored his 36th goal in a 3-0 rout of Colorado in a very Marian Gaborik-like way.

* Fans from Scotland came all the way to see the Washington Capitals. Seems appropriate considering Mike Millbury, color analyst of NBC, would pay just to see Alex Ovechkin play, according to Dan Steinberg of the Washington Post’s D.C. Sports Bog.

* Adam Proteau of The Hockey News expressed his thoughts on the league cultivating the rivalry between Alex Ovechkin and Sidney Crosby.

* Darren Eliot of SI.com can sum up San Jose’s success in the resurgence of Patrick Marleau, who will be a key leader in the Sharks’ postseason run.

* Without Ryan Miller and Thomas Vanek, both sidelined with injuries, the Buffalo Sabres cannot afford to make critical mistakes. 

* Danny Briere is expected to make his return to the Flyers tonight after missing 34 games with groin injuries. To make room cap room for Briere, the Flyers waived two players: Glen Metropolit and Ossi Vannanen, who each make $1 million. The Flyers lead the league with 14 shorthanded goals and are the only team thus far to not allow a shorty.

* The Russians seem to be having more fun these days in the NHL, according to John Buccigross of ESPN.com.

* Rookie Steve Mason of the Columbus Blue Jackets recorded his eighth shutout in a 1-0 win against the Edmonton Oilers. Mason tied a record set by Montreal Canadiens legend Ken Dryden 37 years ago.

The Blue Jackets are aiming to make the playoffs for the first time ever and hold the fifth spot in the Eastern Conference. 

* Within an hour, 26,000 tickets to both matches between the Detroit Red Wings and St. Louis Blues games in Stockholm, Sweden, to open the 2009-2010 season have sold out.

IN THE SYSTEM

* Nolan Schaefer won his 100th pro game and 19th of the season in a 2-1 shootout win over the Iowa Chops on Feb. 21. Schaefer made 24 saves for the Houston Aeros, including four of five in the shoot-out.

* Kurtis Foster also scored his first goal for Houston in his last game before joining the Wild. During Foster’s two-week conditioning stint in Houston, the Aeros went 6-0 and Foster also posted five assists.

John Royal of the Houston Press captured the Aeros’ reaction on Foster’s contributions.

* General Manager Tom Lynn signed Matt Beaudoin to a standard player’s contract. The right winger had been playing on a professional tryout contract. In 19 games, the Rock Forest, Quebec, native posted eight goals and 12 points, including the Aeros’ only hat trick of the season in a dramatic 7-6 win over the Iowa Chops on Feb. 14.

* The Aeros, in a three-way tie for second place in the West Division with 65 points, host the Rockford Icehogs tonight (7:35 p.m. faceoff) and then travel to Quad City to battle the Flames on Saturday night (7:05 p.m. faceoff). Houston finishes its three -game stretch in Milwaukee, where the Aeros challenge the division-leading Admirals (78 points) on Sunday afternoon (4 p.m. faceoff).

Christian Tomas' Links to the Rinks is published weekly for Wild.com at 9 a.m. CST.
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