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With points at a premium, the Minnesota Wild try to regain a share of the lead in the tightly contested Northwest Division and set a franchise record with a ninth consecutive home win as they host the Tampa Bay Lightning on Thursday.
The Wild (21-17-2) have won the first three games of their current five-game homestand and trail Vancouver Canucks by one point in the Northwest, which is separated by a total of four points. Minnesota has a gaudy 17-3-1 record at the Xcel Energy Center and has outscored opponents 30-19 during its current win streak there.
Jacques Lemaire's team, though, enjoyed a rare rout Tuesday, rolling to a 5-1 victory over the Atlanta Thrashers. Pierre Marc-Bouchard assisted on a pair of first-period goals before scoring twice in a 6:28 span of the second period as the Wild posted their biggest margin of victory since a 5-0 rout of Columbus on Oct. 14 and won by more than one goal at home for just the second time during their current run at the Xcel Energy Center.
"I really felt that we had a good team tonight," Lemaire said. "I said the guys are really playing well, determined, responsible - which maybe at the start of the season I felt like that. It's been a long time."
Bouchard is enjoying his best stretch of the season with four goals and four assists in his last three games, all multipoint efforts. Mark Parrish, who also netted two goals Tuesday, has three goals and an assist in his last two contests.
This is Minnesota's second eight-game home win streak this season, matching the one from Oct. 5-Nov. 2 that set a team standard.
Tampa (18-20-2) begin its four-game road trip with a 5-2 loss at Montreal on Tuesday, the Lightning's third in their last four games. Johan Holmqvist made only 22 saves for Tampa, perhaps ending his run as starting goaltender that began with a win in relief of Marc Denis in a 4-3 win over the New York Rangers on Dec. 23.
"It's frustrating, very frustrating. I'm as much at a loss for words as anybody," said Brad Richards. "I don't have the answer. We've just got to keep trying to get more consistent with our game."
Denis is more familiar with the Wild than Holmqvist after spending the first six-plus seasons of his career with Western Conference teams Colorado and Columbus, and Minnesota was more than happy to see him leave for Tampa. Denis is 5-3 with one tie, three shutouts and a 1.82 goals-against average lifetime versus the Wild, whom he shut out in his last appearance against them on March 24, 2004.
Richards, who had an assist in Tuesday's loss, has one goal and three assists in his last three games, while Martin St. Louis has two goals and two assists in a four-game points streak.
The Lightning are 2-5-1 in their last eight road games and are 0-for-13 on the power play in their last three road contests.
Minnesota is 4-1 with one tie in six all-time meetings between the teams, but Tampa has a win and a tie in the last two games after losing the first four.