As the Minnesota Wild sat idle for the past three days, the team watched the Super Bowl, but also watched other NHL teams pick up more points in the standings. Prior to the Wild’s most recent game on Saturday, the club was in seventh place in the West. Three days later, it’s now in 10th, but with the caveat that Minnesota has the all-important “games in hand” on almost every team it’s battling in the standings. Those games in hand begin tonight. The Wild won’t enjoy another three-day break until late March, and tonight’s showdown with the Colorado Avalanche will kick off a stretch of 10 huge games in 17 days.
The Wild had its three-game win streak snapped by the Coyotes in a 1-0 defeat in Arizona. Niklas Backstrom was once again superb in making 40 saves, but he was saddled with the loss, as Minnesota couldn’t generate many offensive chances against the defense-first Yotes.
The Avalanche had their own struggles in scoring against the Coyotes on Monday night. Phoenix’s Ilya Bryzgalov earned a second straight shutout, making 25 saves for the second straight game. Craig Anderson made 22 stops, while taking the loss for the Avs, which has gone scoreless the last two games and lost six of their last seven. Colorado is hoping the return of Peter Forsberg, who signed a contract over the weekend, will be able to help during a stretch run. Forsberg is not with the team in Minnesota, and thus, his debut will have to wait.
There are still a few tickets remaining for tonight's game, starting at $48. Click here to be there for the game, and for pregame ceremony honoring Andrew Brunette.
Wild vs. Avalanche will be broadcast locally in high definition on Fox Sports North at 7:00 PM. The game can be heard on WCCO 830 AM, or online at Wild.com.
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There will be a game played tonight, but there will be a whole gaggle of events taking place outside of the 60 minutes needed for the Wild to thump the Avalanche. The biggest event will be a pregame ceremony and video tribute honoring Andrew Brunette’s 1,000 NHL games played. That will include Brunette's beloved Golden Retriver, Simon. But before you sit down to enjoy the Bruno Show, make sure you arrive early to receive Puck #6, to honor the sixth greatest moment in Wild history.
Colorado might be scoreless in the last six periods and 11 seconds, but that’s most likely because Milan Hejduk wasn’t facing a team wearing red, green and white. In the Wild’s 4-3 victory over the Avs last week, Hejduk almost single-handedly rallied his troops by scoring two goals, twice cutting the Minnesota lead to one goal. If it weren’t for Jarome Iginla, Hejduk would be the top Wild-killer in the NHL. He’s scored 21 goals in 56 career games against Minnesota, and his 12 power play goals are the most of any player against the W’s.
After Tuesday’s practice, Head Coach Todd Richards was asked which goaltender would start against Colorado. He said there wouldn’t be a decision made until immediately after talking to the media, but the smile on his face gave it away. When it was pointed out that Backstrom has given up one goal in the past two games, Richards’ smile got bigger as he said, “you’re right.”
After what is sure to be a special ceremony honoring “Bruno,” the Wild has some important business to tend to. Fortunately, two players that sat out the 1-0 loss in Phoenix will be back in the lineup. Jared Spurgeon will return to the defensive corps, and Matt Cullen will bring some stability back to the line combinations, which were scrambled with his absence on Saturday.
Cullen’s return comes at an important time for the Wild. With the chance to put the Avs in a deep hole in the Western Conference standings, Minnesota will get one of its biggest Colorado killers back. The former Moorhead Spud has tallied seven goals and three helpers in his last seven games against the Avalanche.
Cullen’s return will reunite the lines that helped the Wild to three straight victories prior to Saturday’s loss:
Marek Zidlicky returned to practice on Tuesday, but will remain out for now as he works to get his conditioning back. A familiar cast of characters will man the blue line tonight:
Backstrom will get the start tonight, while he and Jose Theodore are expected to split the home-and-home matchups with St. Louis on Friday and Saturday.
Everybody that’s healthy will be in the lineup.
Cullen (upper body) and Spurgeon (illness) are expected to return. Zidlicky (shoulder) is considered day-to-day. Guillaume Latendresse (abdominal) hopes to resume skating sometime this week. Marco Scandella (concussion) has not progressed any further and will remain unavailable.
"Every game. We'll be saying that for, I believe, 30 more.”
-- Todd Richards at Wednesday's morning skate when it was mentioned to him that tonight's game is 'just another big game.'"
Injured C Peter Mueller is a native of Bloomington, Minnesota.
In the final three months of his NHL seasons, Backstrom has posted a record of 50-23-19 with a 2.22 goals against average and a .922 save percentage.