WILD (26-24-9) AT PANTHERS (27-20-11)
TV: FS-N (HD), FS-WI (D), FS-F
Last 10: Minnesota 2-6-2; Florida 5-5-0.
Season Series: This is the first of two meetings between the two clubs.
Big Story: Playoff fever is here and both the Wild and Panthers are feeling the heat. On a nightly basis, the Panthers are looking to solidify their spot atop the Southeast Division, while the Wild hope to get on a winning streak and climb up the Western Conference standings and find themselves among the Top 8 playoff-contending clubs.
Wild: If the Wild will have any shot to get back in the playoff race, they will have to rack up consecutive victories soon, a task that has eluded the club since late January. Perhaps there's no better chance to do that than their dance with Florida, as the Wild are coming off an impressive, stifling, 2-0, win over the Boston Bruins Sunday afternoon. It was the kind of outing that could propel a team to bigger and better things, especially when the win was preceded by a 1-5-2 stretch. Stingy defense and opportunistic offense has been the modus operandi of the Wild this season when they've been successful and the chance to show off those traits stares the team in the face when they visit the Sunshine State.
Panthers: Meanwhile, the Panthers will want to snap out of a three-game funk when the Wild come to town. In those three games, the Cats managed to score just three goals. That's no way to maintain a Southeast Division lead. But success has followed the club for most of February, however. Prior to the skid, the Panthers were winners of six of seven games. Now, in the midst of a disappointing four-game homestand, the team has a chance to end things on a positive note heading into the March 27 trade deadline.
Who's Hot: Dany Heatley has points in three of four games for the Wild, while the Panthers are led by Tomas Fleischmann and his points in four of five games.
Injury Report: On the shelf for the Wild are Mikko Koivu, Josh Harding and Mike Lundin, all of whom are day-to-day with undisclosed injuries. Also out are Guillaume Latendresse and Pierre-Marc Bouchard, who are out indefinitely with concussions. Meanwhile, John Madden, Jason Garison and Marco Sturm are out for the Cats with lower-body, ankle and knee injuries, respectively. Scottie Upshall, Marco Sturm and Ed Jovanovski are out, too.
Stat Pack: The Panthers remain the only division leader with a negative goals-for/goals-against differential (minus-18). The second lowest is plus-22.
Puck Drop: The Wild goalie Niklas Backstrom on coming off the highs of a win against the Bruins, particularly when victories have been hard to come by:
"Winning, that's fun, that's why you play, and we haven't had a lot of wins in the last couple of months, so sure it's been tough," he said. "Hopefully, this is a good start for something new. We'll try to enjoy this. We learned the last couple of months, you can't take anything for granted."