GAMEDAY: Wild vs. Hurricanes
Friday, 03.16.2012 / 8:16 PM
Minnesota Wild (29-31-10: 68 points, 13th in Western Conference, 4th in Northwest Division) vs. Carolina Hurricanes (27-29-15: 69 points, 13th in Eastern Conference, 5th in Southeast Division)
TV: FS-Carolinas (HD), FS-North (HD), FS-Wisconsin (HD)
Carolina 4-3-3; Minnesota 2-7-1
This is the only meeting of the season between the Hurricanes and Wild, who haven't seen each other since they opened up the 2010-11 season in Helsinki, Finland. Carolina swept that two-game series, winning 4-3 on a pair of Brandon Sutter goals and 2-1 via a Jeff Skinner goal in the shootout.
The Hurricanes hardly look like a team playing out the string, as they've been competitive night in and night out. Rookie coach Kirk Muller continues to run workhorse goalie Cam Ward out there, and the results of late have been impressive -- Ward has a .949 save percentage over his last four starts and is coming off a 40-save shutout effort against the Blues, who lead the race for the Presidents' Trophy.
It's back on the road for Carolina, which recently completed a five-game trip with a 2-2-1 mark and now plays a weekend set in Minnesota and Winnipeg. The Hurricanes got to come home to the newly-renamed PNC Arena for a one-night stand Thursday, and they made the most of the brief reunion with their home faithful, scoring a 2-0 win against St. Louis. Ward dueled Brian Elliott, the NHL leader in goals-against average, to a scoreless tie deep into the third period. Finally, Chad LaRose broke through by scoring with 7:52 remaining and Skinner added an insurance goal with 2:38 left. Ward's win was the 200th of his career.
"He was really strong tonight from start to finish. He looked like he was really tracking the puck well. He looked really confident in the net, and that's what we need from him," Muller said. "That's a nice milestone, and it's a nice way to do it, too. He had to work for it, and it's quite an accomplishment."
Saturday's date marks the midway point of a five-game homestand for Minnesota, which hasn't exactly been enjoying the home cooking at the Xcel Energy Center of late. The Wild have lost four in a row on home ice and been shut out in three of them. The latest blanking came 1-0 at the hands of the Stars on Tuesday, with rookie Matt Hackett
getting the short end of his matchup with Kari Lehtonen. Each goalie faced 25 shots, but Jamie Benn's goal 3:46 into the third turned out to be the difference.
"When we play like that we give ourselves a chance to win every night," said forward Kyle Brodziak
, who was denied the tying goal by Lehtonen on a one-timer in the final seconds.
LaRose has 4 goals in his last six games for the Hurricanes. Skinner has 4 goals and 6 assists in his last 10 games.
Carolina forward Jiri Tlusty (upper body) has missed the last three games, while defenseman Jaroslav Spacek (back) has missed two straight. … Minnesota defenseman Steven Kampfer
left the third period of Tuesday's game after being cut by a stick to the face, while forward Matt Cullen
left late in the second period due to an apparent knee injury, but returned in the third. Goalie Niklas Backstrom
(lower body) has been sidelined since March 1 and defenseman Justin Falk
(leg) since March 4.
Skinner, who won't turn 20 until May 16, reached the 20-goal plateau for the second straight season with his goal Thursday. He had 31 as a rookie, but missed 16 games this season due to injury. … Hackett has posted a 2.06 GAA and .934 save percentage in 10 appearances (5 starts) for the Wild.
Ward, who also tied Arturs Irbe's team record with his 20th career shutout, spoke about his milestone night following Thursday's game.
"It means a lot to me. … To be able win 200 games in this organization is something I'm proud of. I don't want to stop now," Ward said. "Hopefully I can add another 200."