GAMEDAY: Wild at Sharks
Minnesota Wild (35-28-7: 77 points, 11th in Western Conference, 3rd in Northwest Division) at San Jose Sharks (40-23-8: 88 points, 3rd in Western Conference, 1st in Pacific Division)
The Minnesota Wild had high hopes going into this four-game road trip that included four Western Conference opponents, all of whom have designs on a playoff spot. After three games, the hope for a good trip has been diminished by three losses. But the hope for a playoff spot is still alive. The Wild remains four points back of Anaheim and Calgary, which are tied for eighth, four points ahead of Minnesota. But the Wild needs wins, including tonight against a Sharks team that will be without Dany Heatley, who is serving a two-game suspension.
The Wild went to 0-3-0 on the road trip after a 4-2 loss to Vancouver on Monday night. After allowing the first three goals in the first period, Mikko Koivu
set up an Andrew Brunette
goal and then tallied one of his own in his return from a broken finger. Niklas Backstrom
took the loss took the loss after stopping 18 shots.
The Sharks snapped a three-game losing streak by drilling the Dallas Stars, 6-3 on Tuesday night. Joe Thornton and Heatley both scored twice. Torrey Mitchell also scored and Joe Pavelski notched four assists. Antti Niemi stopped 34 shots to get the victory.
Wild at Sharks will be broadcast locally in high definition on Fox Sports North at 9:30 PM. The game can be heard on WCCO 830 AM or online at Wild.com.
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In honor of St. Patrick’s Day, Wild fans should pay homage to former Wild winger Owen Nolan, who was born in Ireland and owns a pub in the Bay Area. It’s actually a British Pub named Brittania Arms, but you’ll likely find what you need to eat and drink prior to a Wild-Sharks game.
After an eight-game win streak that started in late February, the Sharks vaulted to the top of the Pacific Division and basically assured themselves of yet another playoff spot. Since then, San Jose has dropped four-of-six (2-2-2), and tonight, they’ll be without Heatley, who will miss two games after elbowing Dallas’ Steve Ott in the head on Tuesday.
That doesn’t mean anybody should feel bad for San Jose. With Thornton, Pavelski, Patrick Marleau, Logan Couture and Ryane Clowe, one would think that the offense should be able to survive two games. But the Wild has been able to take two of three from the Sharks this season with Heatley in the lineup.
With a broken finger, Koivu was still able to keep himself in shape during his time away from the rink. Apparently, he was doing ultra marathons because he was a dominant specimen in Vancouver. His goal and assist didn’t lead to a win, but his return provided a visible boost to the team, which actually controlled most of the game against the top team in the NHL.
Win. The Wild has to win games to get to the postseason. Minnesota would have to go 8-3-1 over its last 12 games to get to 94 points, which looks like it may be enough to get in at this point. While the schedule is favorable after tonight, the Wild has to come up with some wins against big teams as well. That includes a roadie in San Jose.
With a goal or an assist tonight, Brent Burns
would break the Wild’s team record for points by a defenseman. Burns has already racked up 43 on 16 goals and 27 assists. In 24 career games against San Jose, the blueliner has tallied four goals and 11 helpers.
The Wild will be without Guillaume Latendresse
for at least one more game. The only change up front could be if Brad Staubitz
gets in against his former team:
was banged up on Monday and is not expected to be able to go tonight. Marco Scandella
, who was recalled yesterday, will get back in:
may have been a candidate to start this one, but he was ill yesterday and missed the team’s practice. He will likely be the backup tonight as Backstrom will make his second straight start.
One forward is going to have to come out tonight, but no word from San Jose on who that is yet.
Zidlicky (lower body) is doubtful…James Sheppard (knee), Guillaume Latendresse
(abdominal) and Cam Barker
(upper body) are out.
“You noticed him right away, you noticed him all game. He drives our team. I think we had another level we haven’t seen in awhile.”
-- Todd Richards to the Minneapolis Star Tribune on the performance of Koivu in his return.
D Justin Braun is a native of Vadnais Heights and played his high school hockey for White Bear Lake.
The Wild is 3-0-2 all-time on St. Patrick’s Day and has won the last three games played on the green holiday.