WILD (14-13-3) at FLAMES (19-8-3)
Last 10: Minnesota 7-2-1; Calgary 7-2-1
Season series: First of six meetings between Northwest Division rivals – the final four won't even occur until after the Olympic break. Calgary won five of the six meetings last season, though Minnesota did gain a couple points via overtime losses and won the most recent matchup, 4-0, on April 3. Daymond Langkow of the Flames and Andrew Brunette of the Wild led all scorers with three goals apiece.
Big story: Overlook the fact Calgary enters Friday in first place while Minnesota is still fifth and last. These teams are equally hot over their past 10 games and 10 points are all that separate the teams in the Northeast. Depending on how other games involving Colorado and Edmonton turn out, the Flames could relinquish the division lead and the Wild could ascend from out of the basement.
Wild: There's no truth to the rumor Minnesota GM Chuck Fletcher petitioned the League to play Colorado 82 games per season, but could anyone blame him if he tried? While the Avalanche have spent a significant portion of the season in first place, the Wild have won all four meetings with them, including 1-0 on Wednesday behind 23 saves from Niklas Backstrom and an early goal by Antti Miettinen.
"It seems to be a one-goal game every time we play against them," said Backstrom, referring to a pair of earlier shootout wins. The other victory was 5-3, but with an empty-net goal by Chuck Kobasew that completed a hat trick.
Flames: Calgary has alternated losses and wins to begin the month of December and is coming off a 3-1 victory against Atlanta. It marked the Flames' return home after a six-game road trip. Now they gear up for a key division game against an opponent they have little direct knowledge of this season.
"They've been good the last 10 games or so. I think their record's pretty good," forward Curtis Glencross said. "We haven't really seen too much of them yet so we'll do our homework on them (Friday) morning when we do our video and we'll go from there.”
Who's hot: For Minnesota, Miettinen has seven of his eight goals for the season in his last eight games. Brunette has two goals and 10 points in his last seven games. Backstrom is coming off his first shutout of the season.
Calgary goaltender Miikka Kiprusoff has not allowed more than two goals in any of his last nine starts. He's 6-2-1 in that span with a pair of shutouts.
Injury report: Concussions continue to plague the Wild – forward Andrew Ebbett joins a list that already included defenseman Brent Burns and forwards Pierre-Marc Bouchard and Petr Sykora. Forward Derek Boogaard has been battling the flu and is questionable.
Flames defenseman Cory Sarich is on injured reserve. Forward Craig Conroy (knee) didn't skate Thursday, but coach Brent Sutter said it was just a maintenance day for the veteran.
Stat pack: Flames captain Jarome Iginla needs six assists to pass Theo Fleury for second on the franchise's all-time list. Conroy is two points shy of reaching 300 in his tenure with Calgary.
Puck drop: The Pengrowth Saddledome has been a house of horrors for Minnesota over the years. The Wild are 3-18-3 all-time playing there, with one win in the past 15 visits.
"Some teams, they just have your number," Brunette told the Minneapolis Star-Tribune. "Edmonton once had our number, and over the last few years, we've played better in Edmonton. It's hard to understand. It's like I just saw the last 15 against Colorado and us, we're 12-1-2. I mean, who would have thought that? Not me.
"So I think every team, there are teams they struggle against. Hopefully for us it's over against Calgary. We play a different way, and maybe that'll mean we'll play a lot better in that building."