The last time the Wild faced the St. Louis Blues, it was preseason and Wild goalie Josh Harding suffered a horrible knee injury to start the year. Today, Harding skated in pads for the first time since that game and his eventual replacement for the season, Jose Theodore, will start in net for the Wild tonight in St. Louis.
With the help of strong goaltending performances, both the Wild and Blues are locked in the dead heat of the Western Conference playoff chase. By the end of the weekend, the teams will be plenty familiar with each other, playing in back-to-back games against each other - contests that could decide that playoff fate of St. Louis and give a good indication of the Wild's postseason chances.
The Blues snapped a four-game road losing streak with a 2-1 win in Florida Tuesday. David Backes tallied a goal before Matt D'Agostini netted the game winner with four minutes left in regulation. Jaroslav Halak made 30 saves to earn the win against the Panthers.
Wild at Blues will be broadcast locally in high definition on KSTC-TV Channel 45 at 7:00 PM. The game can be heard on WCCO 830 AM, or online at Wild.com.
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It’s Student Night at Scottrade Center and that means all you school kids can get a great deal to watch the Wild storm into St. Louis. Just bring a student ID to the box office and get a Mezzanine Level seat for $20 or a Plaza Seat for just $35. Plus, you'll get a free hot dog and soft drink with each ticket.
Having not faced the Blues all season, the Wild will face St. Louis in back-to-back nights. While the four points up for grabs this weekend are important for Minnesota, they might decide the fate of the Blues' postseason hopes. St. Louis currently sits in a tie for 13th in the ultra-tight Western Conference, seven points out of playoff position entering tonight's game. If the Wild is able to win one, if not both of this weekend's games, the Blues might join Edmonton as the only Western Conference teams that are all but officially out of postseason contention.
Minnesotan Backes has had an impressive season with the Blues, having already surpassed his goal total from last season and leading the team with 18 goals. The NHL All-Star also ranks second on the Blues with 39 points. After stealing the spotlight during last year's playoffs with Montreal, Halak has had the starter role in St. Louis this season. While it might not equal his impressive postseason performance last year, Halak has a very solid 2.58 GAA and .909 SV % in 40 games this year.
It may seem like it's been a trend this whole season, but Havlat is on a tear with the Wild. The winger scored an important go-ahead goal for the Wild Wednesday and now has eight points (5-3=8) during the Wild's current 7-2-0 streak. Havlat's goal was his team-leading 15th on the year and he is now just three markers away from reaching his goal total from last season. He leads the Wild with 46 points (15-31=46), 152 shots and four game-winning goals in 53 games this season.
Minnesota opens its 12th set of back-to-back games this season tonight in St. Louis. On the season, the Wild owns a 7-3-1 record in the first night's contests. In a change up to the usual back-to-back game format, the Wild will face the same team in a 24-hour time frame, hosting the Blues tomorrow in St. Paul for the Hockey Day Minnesota finale. The two games between the Blues and Wild are just half of the organizations' contests this weekend as the teams' minor league affiliates will play twice this weekend. The Houston Aeros travel to Peoria tonight, before the Aeros host the Rivermen in St. Paul at Xcel Energy Center Sunday.
Todd Richards talked a lot this week about his desire for the Wild's power play to generate more shots on goal and scoring chances. Perhaps his message is getting through to the guys playing with the man advantage because the Wild power play was noticeably more aggressive on Wednesday, scoring a power-play goal for the first time in four games. Minnesota's power play ranks seventh in the NHL (20.1%) and is even better on the road, ranking fifth (20.9%). The Wild is 19-8-1 this season when scoring a power-play goal.
The Wild will again go with the minimum number of forwards:
Greg Zanon missed yesterday's practice with a sore elbow after blocking a shot in Wednesday's game, but not surprisingly, is expected to be in the lineup tonight:
Theodore will get the start tonight, while Backstrom is expected to get the Hockey Day start tomorrow in St. Paul.
Everybody that’s healthy will be in the lineup.
Marek Zidlicky (shoulder) continues to skate and is considered day-to-day but did not travel with the team. Guillaulme Latendresse (abdominal) has resumed skating in St. Paul but no timeline has been given for his return. Marco Scandella (concussion) skated for the first time today in St. Paul but will remain unavailable.
"Maybe he likes the ice bags at home; he doesn't have to go to the fridge and can keep his drink cold.”
-- Todd Richards joking with the media Thursday about Greg Zanon's willingness to block shots despite the painful consequences.
RW Backes is a native of Minneapolis and played three seasons at Minnesota State Mankato (2003-06)...D Erik Johnson is a native of Bloomington and played one season at the University of Minnesota (2006-07)…C T.J. Oshie played high school hockey in Warroad.
The Wild is 22-3-2 in games which it scores at least three goals this season.