Carolina heads to Minnesota for the third game of a four-game road trip, hoping to start Christmas early with a second straight win.
The Canes are coming off a solid 3-2 victory in Montreal Sunday and will play the Wild for the lone time this season. The Canes are currently tied with Buffalo for the final playoff spot in the East with 37 points and identical 16-13-5 records. Minnesota comes into tonight's game struggling, having lost seven of their past eight and managing just three points over that stretch. Due to the recent slide, the Wild are 16-14-2 (34 points) and find themselves on the outside looking in on the playoffs, trailing Nashville by a point for eighth spot in the Western Conference.
Minnesota's lineup has been in a state of flux in recent weeks, but the biggest change is the recent return of Marian Gaborik. Gaborik had a goal and an assist against Calgary in his reinsertion into the lineup Dec. 17, but has been kept off the scoresheet the past two. The Wild admit Gaborik is not yet up to speed, but the dynamic winger is still one of the game's top snipers and a threat every time the puck is on his stick.
Minnesota will be without Marc-Andre Bergeron, the team's top scoring defenseman, because of a "lower body" injury. He will be out several weeks, according to the Star-Tribune. The Wild will get back ex-Hurricane Eric Belanger, who missed two games with pneumonia.
The Canes should have the same lineup as Saturday, presumably with a hot Cam Ward back between the pipes. Ward is 3-1-1 with a 1.94 goals-against average and .926 save percentage since returning from injury, and with two days to rest over Christmas he should get the nod.
Goalie Niklas Backstrom has started three straight for the Wild and, with four days off following tonight's game, we'll guess he'll be in net again.
We'll try and give an update if there are any changes to the starting lineups.
The game starts at 8 p.m. and will be broadcast on FSC and 99.9 The Fan.
UPDATES: Courtesy of Michael Russo's blog at the Star Tribune.
Benoit Pouliot, who was picked 4th overall in 2005 right after the Canes selected Jack Johnson, will be a healthy scratch tonight. Coach Jacques Lemaire sounds none to pleased with the emerging draft bust.
It also looks like it will be Backstrom in net, since Russo says he'll debut a new mask tonight. Still no definitive word on Ward or Michael Leighton starting for Carolina.
- Joe Corvo has points in four straight games, tying his longest such streak of the season (Nov. 2-7).
- Mikko Koivu leads Minnesota in goals (11), assists (22) and points (33, T-22nd in NHL). He's also third in the league in faceoff wins (364), but his winning percentage is just 53.4 percent. Rod Brind'Amour leads the league in wins (467) and percentage (62.7).
- Backstrom's 15 wins are fourth in the league, three behind leaders Henrik Lundqvist, Evgeni Nabokov and Miikka Kiprusoff. His 2.28 goals against average is tops among goalies with at least 20 games played, and his three shutouts are tied for second in the NHL.
- The Wild are one of the league's worst 5-on-5 teams, scoring .85 goals for every goal their opponent tallies. They make up for it with special teams: Minnesota's power play is eighth in the NHL (22.3 percent) and the penalty kill is second (88.6). The PP is even better at the Xcel Energy Center (23.6 percent, fifth). Carolina has the No. 22 (15.1) and No. 25 (79.6) power play and penalty kill, respectively.
- Tough guy Derek Boogaard leads the Wild in plus/minus (plus-5). Eric Staal leads the Canes with a plus-10.
- Staal has 10 of his 11 assists this season on the road. He has seven goals both at home and when traveling.
- Tuomo Ruutu has eight goals and six assists in 13 road games, compared to three goals and four assists in 18 games at the RBC Center.
- Anton Babchuk has all four of his points (one goal, three assists) in his 11 road games, leaving him without a point in 13 games at home.
- This is the ninth all-time meeting between the teams, with Carolina leading the series 4-2-2, including a 3-2 win last season in Raleigh. The Canes are just 1-2-2 on the road in St. Paul.