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Let's Get Wild

by Staff Writer / Anaheim Ducks

Brother ... pitted against brother ... in the ultimate battle of attrition. (Or, just two Koivu brothers taking a face-off.)

As much as we've been talking the last few weeks about the Ducks fighting to narrow the gap between them and the Minnesota Wild, Anaheim can get to within three points of Minnesota with a regulation win there tonight.

Only problem is, Minnesota isn't in eighth place anymore.

The Wild, who were at one time near the top of the West through mid-December, and more recently gripping onto that last playoff spot in the conference, have hit a major slide as of late. After starting the season with a 20-7-3 record, they have gone 5-15-5 since, which includes an eight-game losing streak and their current three-game skid. They've fallen five points behind Phoenix in the eighth spot in the West. Meanwhile, a win tonight for the Ducks gets them to within eight points of that slot with a game in hand on the Coyotes.

"Just like us, they're a desperate hockey club that needs a win," Bruce Boudreau said this morning about the Wild. "I was just looking at the numbers, I think we were 16 points back of them when I first got here, and now we're five. It's a good chance to keep things going, and if things fall our way, we'll get a little closer."

Minnesota has been hurt by injuries and an inability to find the net. Including their 3-1 loss at home to Columbus last Saturday, they have scored just six goals in their last five games. Among the guys out for them tonight are winger Cal Clutterbuck, who has the rarely reported charley horse, suffered Saturday night. Also sidelined are Clayton Stoner (lower body) and Pierre-Marc Bouchard, Guillaume Latendresse and Jarod Palmer (all out with concussion symptoms).

To make up for those injuries, winger Kris Foucault will make his debut for Minnesota tonight, the 39th skater and 13th rookie the Wild have suited up this season.

Minny will go with Josh Harding in net (for the first time since January 31) over No. 1 Niklas Backstrom, as Harding beat the Ducks 5-3 in the teams' last meeting, December 4 at Honda Center.

"I think our biggest challenge is to come out in the first period and surprise them, play the way we've been playing -- maybe 10 percent better than that," Boudreau said. "If we can come out and meet their push early, get the lead on them and frustrate them, I think it will be to our advantage."

Since it's Valentine's Day, here's a couple of things for you: The first 5,000 female fans through the gates at Xcel Energy Center tonight will get a free box of chocolates (congrats to their dates for being able to knock that one out).

And if you believe in this sort of thing, look for Corey Perry to continue the scoring run he got on Sunday in Columbus. According to The Score, the last 10 reigning Hart Trophy winners have scored 11 goals on Valentine's Day.

One of the great things about a road trip that covers the midwest and the east are puck drop times that come right around the time we're leaving work (or at least I think it's great). Tonight we get things started at 4:30 p.m. Pacific, and if you're not already getting the game on Prime Ticket, tonight's tilt will be aired on NBC Sports Network (the former Versus). Also, if you have DirecTV (I know I do), you can catch more of the games on this trip (and other NHL action) during a free trial of Center Ice going on now through the 19th.
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