The Vancouver Canucks (28-24-9) and Minnesota Wild (32-21-7) square off tonight at Rogers Arena.
The Wild currently hold the top wild card spot in the Western Conference six points up on the Canucks. Both teams are coming off shutout victories in their return to action after the Olympic break. The Canucks blanked St. Louis 1-0 here on Wednesday night while Minnesota rolled to a 3-0 win in Edmonton last night.
Eddie Lack made 20 saves for his third shutout of the season. In doing so, he becomes the first Canucks rookie netminder to post three shutouts in his first NHL campaign. Lack returns to the net tonight and will have Ryan Kesler and Chris Tanev in the line-up in front of him. Kesler missed Wednesday night with a sore hand while Tanev has missed seven games since suffering a thumb injury on January 27th. Kevin Bieksa is also expected to play after missing practice Thursday to rest his sore foot.
The Canuck victory against St. Louis snapped a seven-game losing streak and Jannik Hansen’s goal was the first third period goal by a Vancouver forward since Mike Santorelli scored against the Blues on January 10th. As a team, however, goal-scoring remains a challenge for the Canucks who have five goals in their past five games.
No longer division mates, the Canucks and Wild are certainly familiar foes having spent the past 12 seasons together in the Northwest Division. Now they find themselves fighting for the two wild card spots available in the Western Conference.
Darcy Kuemper made 21 saves for his 2nd career shutout last night. He’s expected to make his 14th straight start tonight. On that run he is 9-2-2 with a 2.02 GAA and a 93.3 save percentage. Kuemper made his NHL debut in this rink just over a year ago (February 12, 2013) in a 2-1 loss to the Canucks.
Former Canuck Keith Ballard makes his return to Rogers Arena for the first time since being bought out by Vancouver last summer. Long-time Canuck Matt Cooke makes his first appearance here as a member of the Wild. Cooke is playing his 996th career NHL game tonight with game 1,000 scheduled for March 11th at home against the Oilers.
The hottest player coming into action tonight will come as a surprise to many – Dany Heatley scored last night and has 3+3=6 in his past five games. With 12 goals on the season, Heatley is tied for third on the Wild in that department.
Captain Mikko Koivu took the morning skate, but will not return to the Wild line-up for the first time since January 4th when he broke his ankle. He has been out 16 games.