Maybe a little road sunshine will do the Wild good as the team looks to earn two-straight wins for the first time since January. Minnesota heads south to face the Florida Panthers, and also will try to break a three-game road winless streak. Tonight is the first of back-to-back nights, the second coming in Dallas tomorrow.
The Wild again will be without its captain Mikko Koivu, who is out with an undisclosed injury and did not travel with the team. Josh Harding also did not travel with the team because of, what Head Coach Mike Yeo called, a lower-body tweak. The Wild called-up Matt Hackett, who will backup Niklas Backstrom. Warren Peters will return to the lineup after serving a one-game suspension.
On Hockey Day in America, the Wild snapped a seven-game winless streak by shutting out the Boston Bruins, 2-0. Backstrom made a career-high 48 saves to earn his fourth shutout of the season. Minnesota natives, Chad Rau scored his second-career goal and Matt Cullen added a second-period power play goal.
The Panthers suffered a 2-0 loss to the Anaheim Ducks on Sunday. Jose Theodore stopped 25 of 26 shots in the loss. Teemu Selanne scored the game winner in the first period and Niklas Hagman added an empty netter to secure the win for the Ducks.
Wild at Panthers will be broadcast locally in high definition on Fox Sports North with a start time at 6:30 PM. The game can be heard on KFAN 100.3 FM or online at Wild.com.
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Fans have the opportunity to bid on sports items with the Florida Panthers Foundation’s silent auction. The auction begins one hour prior to the start of the game and ends at the end of the 2nd intermission. Winning bidders may pay for their items and take them home that night. Proceeds benefit the Foundation, which maintains a focus on children’s health, fitness, education and cultural needs.
After missing the playoffs for 10-straight seasons, the Panthers underwent a major roster overhaul during the offseason. Florida acquired defensemen Ed Jovanovski and Brian Campbell; forwards Kris Versteeg and Tomas Fleischmann, who are one and two in Panthers scoring respectively; and former Wild goaltender Jose Theodore. The bold moves have Florida atop the Southeast Division in the Eastern Conference.
Backstrom’s performance was not only a career best, but his 48 saves against the Bruins was the most recorded saves made by a Wild goaltender in a shutout. When Backstrom is seeing the puck, he’s extremely tough to beat, and the Wild needs him to continue playing at a high level if Minnesota is going to be a playoff contender.
Chad Rau just scores game-winning goals. In five appearances with the Wild this season, Rau has two goals, both game winners. Coincidentally, his goals came on Hockey Day Minnesota and Hockey Day in America. Is it Hockey Day in Florida by chance?
When Niklas Backstrom is square to shots and seeing the puck, he is near impossible to beat. Against Boston, the Wild’s defensemen were keeping the Bruins from the front of the net and clearing vagrant rebounds from the slot. When Minnesota had its early season success, the blueliners were helping out their goaltenders and the Wild was the surprise team of the NHL. If the defensive corps allows Backstrom to see the first shot and help defuse second-chance opportunities, it will be a long night for the Panthers’ offense.
Against Boston, Rau and Cullen were the Wild goal scorers. It was the first time that someone not named Heatley, Koivu or Setoguchi scored for the Wild in five games. With Koivu out for his third-straight game with an undisclosed injury, Minnesota needs to continue to find scoring from sources outside of its top line.
The Wild has twelve forwards in Florida and all will play tonight:
“Sunday has to be the game that we use as far as how we’re going to do it. We’re going to need great goaltending, like we got, and we’ve got to have that really strong commitment to team defense. If we just focus on going out and doing those things then we’ll win a lot of games.”
-- Mike Yeo on the prospect of making the playoffs
Theodore went 15-11-3 with the Wild in 2010-11. John Madden played 76 games with Minnesota in 2010-11.
The Wild is 12-for-50 (24.0%) all-time on the power play against Florida, including a 12-for-41 mark (29.3%) in the last nine games.