WINNIPEG – Look out. The Minnesota Wild are coming in hot.
Following a 5-3 victory over the Vancouver Canucks one night ago, the Wild have now won six straight games and are officially back in the conversation, making tonight’s game at MTS Centre as critical as any.
So it goes in a playoff race. Game on, folks.
The Wild – who have three games in hand – trail the Jets by six points in the Western Conference Wild Card. This, after losing eight of their previous 10 before the arrival of Devan Dubnyk, who has single-handedly brought the team back to life.
Dubnyk has had a fabulous start for the Wild, recording four shutouts in his first 10 starts, including three in last six. The 28-year-old is now 8-1-1 with his new team, posting a staggering 1.49 goals-against average and an equally as impressive .940 save percentage. Dubnyk got the start last night in Vancouver – and while he wasn’t as sharp as he has been of late, allowing three goals on 25 shots – the Wild got the win
Minnesota held an optional skate this morning, but as a result of the back-to-back scenario, Darcy Kuemper is expected to get the call between the pipes.
Update at 6:30pm CT: Dubnyk gets the start tonight for the Wild.
Michael Hutchinson will start for the Jets.
Bryan Little, who has a team-leading 21 goals on the year, is looking to set the tone early on a tired opponent.
“Usually can tell the pace of the game by the way we come out and that’s exactly what we want to do tonight – come out hard,” he said. “We know that they played last night."
Minnesota’s leading scorer, Zach Parise, has 21 goals and 19 assists this season and is coming in on a 10-game point streak. Sure, the Wild have traditionally been a team known for their defensive prowess above all else, but with the likes of Parise, Jason Pominville, Thomas Vanek and others in tow, there’s no shortage of firepower.
“They’re a bit like us,” Head Coach Paul Maurice said. “They’ve got a couple lines that can score and they have speed throughout their lineup. We have to spend at least as much time worrying about keeping the puck out of our net and we certainly can’t be cheating.
“They’ve got an awful lot of confidence, as they should. It will be similar to the (recent) games that we’ve played. They’re coming in feeling good and we’ve had a chance to get rested and get back to our pace. We have to match their intensity early on.”
This is the fourth of five meetings between these two teams this season. The Wild hold a 2-0-1 edge, but all three games have been one-goal decisions – two needing overtime.
There’s definitely a rivalry brewing between these two geographically rivals.
“That means you’re playing well if you’re developing those rivalries,” veteran defenceman Mark Stuart said. “They’re getting back to the game that they want to play. They’re a team that’s been successful these last couple of seasons by playing really well defensively and not giving you a whole lot. They’re getting back to that now and getting some really good goaltending.
“It’s going to be a good challenge for us.”
The Jets are coming off a 5-3 win over the Colorado Avalanche on Sunday night. It was impressive display – a workmanlike effort rewarded, with a spur of confidence to boot. Or, as some around the room like to say, a return to “Jets Hockey.”
“With the way our styles match up, it’s usually going to be a tight game. We’re expecting one of those tonight, for sure,” Jets forward Bryan Little said.
“Every game is the biggest game of the year. If this one’s the biggest, then the game after it will be the biggest. Every game and every point is huge right now.
Here are the projected forward line combinations and defence pairings:
Andrew Ladd - Bryan Little - Blake Wheeler
Mathieu Perreault - Mark Scheifele - Dustin Byfuglien
Michael Frolik - Adam Lowry - Chris Thorburn
TJ Galiardi - Jim Slater - Anthony Peluso
Toby Enstrom - Zach Bogosian
Mark Stuart - Jacob Trouba
Ben Chiarot - Adam Pardy
— Ryan Dittrick, WinnipegJets.com