GAMEDAY: Wild at Islanders
Minnesota Wild (33-24-6: 72 points, 10th in Western Conference, 3rd in Northwest Division) at New York Islanders (23-32-9: 55 points, 14th in Eastern Conference, 5th in Atlantic Division)
The Minnesota Wild started an ascension up the Western Conference standings by rattling off three straight wins against Eastern Conference foes at the beginning of January. Since then, it’s been all Western Conference opponents, and mostly teams going head-to-head with the Wild for a playoff spot. As all that was going on, NHL highlight shows played reel after reel of other Western Conference teams whupping up on Eastern Conference teams. Through today, the West is 128-72-31 against the East, and the Wild hope that trend continues in New York tonight. Minnesota is the only team with a sub-.500 record against the East, but that would change with a win against the Islanders.
The Wild is also hoping to build on the way it played in the third period of a 4-2 loss to the Chicago Blackhawks on Monday night. After falling behind 3-0 through two periods, Minnesota came alive thanks to goals by Martin Havlat
and Brent Burns
. But the Hawks snuck a late goal past Nik Backstrom, who stopped 30-of-34 shots in taking the loss.
The Islanders dropped a third straight game last night in a 2-1 overtime defeat to the Washington Capitals. Matt Moulson scored his 28th goal of the season to give the Islanders a lead heading into the third period, but the Caps rallied in the third and won on an Alex Ovechkin winner. Nathan Lawson took the loss despite making 40 saves.
Wild at Islanders will be broadcast locally in high definition on KSTC-TV Channel 45 at 6:00 PM. The game can be heard on BOB 106.1 FM, KBGY 107.5 FM or online at Wild.com.
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Attending tonight’s game is a win-win situation if you’re a Wild fan. The expected outcome is a Wild victory, but if the Islanders somehow score three goals (not likely), all fans will get a voucher for a free bowl of chili from Wendy’s Long Island locations.
Here in Minnesota, we often think Mikko Koivu
or Burns would receive a lot more national attention if not for an East Coast bias. So how do you think Moulson feels?
Not only does he play out East, but he plays in New York (granted, the less popular but more historically successful franchise). He has to be the most under-the-radar 30-goal scorer from last season, and he’s well on his way to obliterating that career high, having already scored 28 this year.
Of course, he probably would have even more goals had he chosen a career in lacrosse. Moulson was drafted in the fourth round of the NLL Draft, whereas he was a ninth round choice of the Pittsburgh Penguins in 2003.
After going a stretch of 12 games without a goal (most defensemen would love to be in that position), Burns has come alive since the Wild lost the offense of Koivu. Burns has a goal in two of the last three games as well as two helpers. His most recent assist set up Pierre-Marc Bouchard
’s overtime game-winner on Friday.
Having played his entire career in the Northwest Division, Eric Nystrom
doesn’t get home very much in the winter. The native of Syosset, N.Y., grew up on Long Island and started skating on the very ice he’ll play on tonight. Nystrom is very familiar with this building that housed four Stanley Cup celebrations that saw his father, Bob, hoist the Cup over his head.
For whatever reason, the Wild seems to be able to find ways to create breakaway opportunities. Clean breakaways were very rare in the season’s first half, and now it seems as if someone is streaking in on an opposing goalie on a nightly basis. Most often, that player getting behind the defense is Havlat, who converted a breakaway against Chicago.
LW Jed Ortmeyer
was recalled last night to take the place of Chuck Kobasew
, who left practice yesterday due to illness:
did not travel with the team to New York, so the same six defensemen will be used tonight:
Backstrom will get the start tonight, while Jose Theodore
will likely get the nod tomorrow against the Rangers.
There won’t be a player scratched from the lineup tonight.
(abdominal), James Sheppard (knee), Koivu (hand) and Barker (upper body) are out. Kobasew (illness) is also out.
“We’ve put ourselves in a good position. Right now we’re on the outside looking in, but we’re right there.”
-- Todd Richards after Tuesday’s practice on the importance of the next two games in New York
D Jack Hillen is a native of Minnetonka. RW Kyle Okposo is a St. Paul native and a product of the Shattuck-St. Mary’s program.
Since January 2, the Wild has won 16 games. The only teams that have won more are Boston, New Jersey, Philadelphia and Vancouver with 17 each.