The Minnesota Wild currently trails the Calgary Flames by four points for the eighth and final playoff position in the Western Conference. Tonight, the Wild is charged with shaking off two straight shutout losses to find a way to beat the best team in the NHL. The task is daunting, but Minnesota is expected to go into battle tonight with its leader on the ice. Mikko Koivu could return to the lineup for the first time since having his finger broken while blocking a shot on February 18. It's possible that Cal Clutterbuck also returns to the lineup after missing the last four games with an upper body injury. Both Koivu and Clutterbuck are officially labeled as "gametime decisions," and when Koivu was asked today if he'll be out there for pregame warmups, he said, "we'll see."
Koivu and Clutterbuck were both missed during Friday’s 4-0 loss in Dallas. It was the second straight shutout by a Wild opponent. Jose Theodore took the loss after stopping 27 shots.
The Canucks are rolling toward the President’s Trophy after winning their last five games; all on the road and all against Western Conference rivals. On Saturday, the Canucks wrapped up the five game trip with a 4-3 win over the Calgary Flames. Daniel Sedin scored twice, while Ryan Kesler and Alex Burrows each chipped in a goal. Roberto Luongo made 20 saves in his 32nd victory of the season.
Wild at Canucks will be broadcast locally in high definition on Fox Sports North at 9:00 PM. The game can be heard on WCCO 830 AM or online at Wild.com.
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It’s “Ring of Honour Night” at General Motors Place, and the Canucks will honor Harold Snepsts, a gritty player who spent 12 years wearing a Canucks uniform. Unfortunately for him, that uniform was reminiscent of a Star Trek crewmember’s threads with the hideous yellow, black and orange with the hideous “V” going down the chest.
Catching the Canucks fresh off a fifth straight win looks like a trip into the lion’s den, but the Wild always has its best ready for the Canucks. Thus far this season, the teams have split the first four games of the season series. Thus far, the Wild has been able to limit the damage inflicted by the Sedin twins: Daniel and Henrik.
Daniel currently leads the NHL in scoring with 89 points (37-52=89) while Henrik ranks third with 83 (16-67=83). On the victorious five-game trip, the Sedins combined for six goals and 13 assists.
After dropping the last two games by a combined score of 8-0, the Wild is looking for several players to catch fire in what is easily the biggest game of the year. The return of Koivu could do just that if his insertion at the center position between Andrew Brunette and Antti Miettinen could snap their respective skids.
Without Koivu, the Wild has been able to tread water in standings and remain within striking distance of a playoff spot. Now that he appears to be ready for a return, Minnesota needs to start swimming rapidly upstream with 13 games remaining on the schedule.
Not only would the returns of Koivu and Clutterbuck benefit their linemates, but also they would also create a ripple effect through the lineup. The line of Kyle Brodziak, Pierre-Marc Bouchard and Martin Havlat likely sees more open ice against less defensive units. John Madden and Matt Cullen will move back down to lower lines where they can help provide more offense.
In comes Koivu, and out goes Latendresse, who was sent home after Friday’s game to have his abdominal area looked at by doctors:
Look for Niklas Backstrom to get back in the starting role against the Canucks. Backstrom is 11-8-5 in his career against Vancouver.
If both Koivu and Clutterbuck are able to go, one forward would have to come out.
Clutterbuck (upper body)and Koivu (hand) are gametime decisions for tonight…Stoner (lower body), James Sheppard (knee), Guillaume Latendresse (abdominal) and Cam Barker (upper body) are out.
“We’ve got guys that push it, but nobody pushes it like Mikko does.”
-- Todd Richards to the Minneapolis Star Tribune regarding the leadership that is missing with Koivu out of the lineup.
D Andrew Alberts is from Minneapolis and played his high school hockey at Benilde-St. Margaret’s. D Keith Ballard is from Baudette and won a pair of national championships with the Minnesota Gophers in college. LW Mason Raymond spent two seasons at Minnesota-Duluth.
The Wild has won seven of its last eight games against divisional opponents and is 14-5-1 against Northwest foes this season.