Colorado Avalanche players might have been chuckling on Christmas Eve upon reading their morning newspaper and seeing Cal Clutterbuck’s quote that the Minnesota Wild is “coming for them in the standings.” Clutterbuck’s quote followed a chippy game against the Avs, in which the Wild pulled out a 3-1 victory, but still remained in 13th place in the Western Conference and six points behind Colorado.
Nobody on the Avalanche roster is laughing now, as Clutterbuck’s prophecy has come true, perhaps sooner than expected. The Wild has moved a point ahead of the Avalanche, and will look to cushion that lead and move into the top eight with a win tonight in Denver.
Thanks to a flawless performance by Niklas Backstrom in Andrew Brunette’s 1,000th NHL game on Tuesday, the Wild was able to keep its momentum following the All-Star break with its fifth win in six games. Backstrom turned away 27 shots through regulation and overtime, and then three Los Angeles King shootout attempts. Pierre-Marc Bouchard’s tally in the second round of the shootout was all the Wild needed in a 1-0 shootout victory.
The Avs would have had a chance to hang onto second place in the Northwest if not for a major winter storm that slammed into St. Louis. The game between the Blues and Avs was postponed, which means tonight’s game will be Colorado’s first in over a week. The Avs’ last game was Wednesday, January 26, a 5-2 loss to the Phoenix Coyotes.
Wild at Avalanche will be broadcast locally in high definition on Fox Sports North at 8:00 PM. The game can be heard on WCCO 830 AM, or online at Wild.com.
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It’s Guys Night Out tonight, so for $59 you get two tickets, two beers and a GNO T-shirt. After the game, you can wear those T-shirts out to a local establishment and look for a date for Valentine’s Day. You’ve only got 10 days gentlemen, so get on that.
With a slide in the standings, the Avalanche now await word on whether or not Peter Forsberg will make his 45th midseason comeback from retirement. Forsberg has been skating with the Avs in Denver, including through the entire All-Star break. He is close to making a decision about a return, but the Wild will avoid him for tonight’s contest.
Instead, Minnesota can concentrate on shutting down sophomore sensation Matt Duchene. With 20 goals and 25 assists this season, the 20-year-old recently became the youngest player in Avs history to reach 100 points in the NHL.
If you’re going to win a scoreless game in a shootout, the goaltending has to be good, but so does the defense. The Wild’s defense has been airtight recently, and a lot of that has to do with the play of defensive partners Greg Zanon and Clayton Stoner. Over the last 13 games, that tandem is a combined +12 and Stoner hasn’t been a minus since December 26. On Tuesday, the Wild blocked a whopping 25 shots, with Zanon and Stoner getting in the way of nine of those.
Despite Backstrom’s shutout, the Wild wants to knock some rust off backup Jose Theodore, who hasn’t seen game action since a loss at Nashville on January 11. Backstrom has solid numbers against the Avs, but one of his few off performances of this season came in a 7-4 loss in the altitude back on November 27. Theodore will get the chance to face the team he backstopped for parts of three seasons.
The Wild’s checking line of John Madden, Eric Nystrom and Brad Staubitz doesn't get much recognition because they don’t pump in a ton of goals. That doesn’t mean they don’t spend time in the offensive zone and wear down the opponent with pressure and hits. Early in Tuesday’s game, that group seemed to stem momentum anytime the Kings started generating chances. When they were on the ice, the puck was in the Los Angeles zone.
The Wild will again go with the minimum number of forwards:
"I sense that the guys are focused. You noticed that, too? I noticed it, but I try not to read too much in to morning skates.”
-- Todd Richards reaction when it was pointed out to him that the team looked very quiet during today's morning skate in Denver.
C Ryan Stoa is a Bloomington native and a former Minnesota Gopher. Injured C Peter Mueller also hails from Bloomington.
On more stat on Brunette, who will play his 1,001st game against one of his four former teams. Brunette is the only player ever to start his career in the East Coast Hockey League and go on to play 1,000 NHL games.