And so it begins. By far the most important road swing of the season for the Minnesota Wild kicks off tonight in Nashville. Over the course of the next 10 days, the Wild will play four games, all against teams with legitimate designs on securing a Western Conference playoff spot. During that time, the Wild also hopes it will see the returns of two of the most important forwards on the team: Mikko Koivu and Cal Clutterbuck. Both players accompanied the team to Nashville, and while neither will play tonight, their impending returns could provide the juice needed in this fierce battle for the postseason.
The Predators stayed in contention by salvaging a point in San Jose on Tuesday in a 3-2 overtime loss. The Predators trailed twice in regulation but got game-tying goals from Joel Ward and Shea Weber before Patrick Marleau won it for the Sharks in overtime. Pekka Rinne took the loss despite making 30 saves.
Wild at Predators 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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For all you Minnesota college kids that decided to head south for school because you can’t handle the majestic beauty of our winters, we forgive you. We still want you supporting the boys in this most important of games, and you can get in for just $10 if you present your college ID. There will be some discounted drinks, although it’s a school night so you’re forbidden from those. But you’ll also get a $10 Napster Gift Card. You know what’s cooler than $10? Eleven dollars.
The last time these two teams met, the Predators seemed to catch the Wild off guard with their speed and relentless puck pursuit. The Wild will have to be on high alert for that again, but the key to beating Nashville is solving their defense and goaltending.
Led by Rinne, the Predators have limited opponents to 159 goals, the second-lowest total in the Western Conference. Finding a way to score first is key because the Predators can hold a lead better than anybody. When scoring first, Nashville is 27-2-4. They’ve only won eight games when the opposition fires the first strike.
Havlat won’t get a mention at season’s end when Hart Trophy finalists are announced, but there is little doubt that he’s been the Wild’s MVP this season. It was one thing when he carried the Wild in November and December, and it’s another in how he’s stepped up in the absence of key players like Koivu.
Opposing teams are sure to key in on Havlat’s line in Koivu’s absence, but that hasn’t slowed him. Havlat scored a goal in the game that Koivu left after breaking his finger, and he’s posted four goals and six assists in the nine games since. Havlat has recorded a helper in each of the last five contests.
One month from today, the Wild’s regular season will conclude with a home game against the Dallas Stars. From here to now, there is no question that this four-game stretch will be the most important to Minnesota’s playoff hopes. The Wild owns an impressive 18-12-3 record on the road, but is 0-4-0 this season in the buildings it will be playing in over the next seven days.
Somehow, Madden was left off the three stars list on Tuesday night, but the wily veteran was arguably the best player on the ice. His game-winning goal was set up by the work of Chuck Kobasew and Matt Cullen, but the tally was a reward for everything else he did on the ice against the Avs. In 18:28 of ice time, he recorded five shots, a +1 rating and two takeaways. Madden has never missed the playoffs in his NHL career, and he isn’t about to let this year be the first.
Marco Scandella was recalled last night, and will replace the injured Stoner in the lineup:
Considering he’s never won a game in Dallas, look for Backstrom to get the start tonight with Jose Theodore going tomorrow against the Stars. Backstrom is 7-3-0 in 10 games against the Preds.
Clayton Stoner will join the Wild's other walking wounded for a bird's eye view of tonight's action.
Clutterbuck (upper body) is day-to-day, but out for tonight…Stoner (lower body) is out for a second straight game…James Sheppard (knee), Cam Barker (upper body) and Koivu (hand) are out.
“It was nice having that big body back out front of the net and going to the net hard.”
-- Todd Richards on Latendresse’s long-awaited return to the lineup
RW Ward made his NHL debut with Minnesota and played 11 games in a Wild uniform.
To say the Predators are a streaky team would be an understatement. While Minnesota hasn’t lost more than three games in regulation once this season, the Preds have regulation losing skids of five, five and four. They’ve also had winning streaks of five games and six games, and the started the season with five wins and three overtime losses.