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Backstrom, Iginla get hot at the right time

by John Kreiser

Niklas Backstrom posted a 5-1-3 record and allowed just 16 goals in the Wild's last nine games. Watch Niklas Backstrom highlights
If the Minnesota Wild are going to win the four-way scramble for first place in the Northwest Division, they'll need Niklas Backstrom to continue the kind of goaltending he's been providing this month.

Backstrom gave the Wild almost-flawless play in consecutive victories against the Los Angeles Kings and Colorado Avalanche that moved the Wild to the top of the four-team heap. He stopped 53 of 54 shots in the two games, allowing only one power-play goal.

The 30-year-old Finn has been superb in the Wild's last nine games, posting a 5-1-3 record and allowing just 16 goals. He figures to see most of the action for Minnesota in the final three weeks of the season.
Five up -- Five players who've been producing:

Jarome Iginla
-- Calgary's captain is all alone at the top of the Flames' goal-scoring list. He has five goals and eight points in his past five games, including his 365th as a Flame, passing Theo Fleury for No. 1 on the franchise's all-time list.

Petr Sykora -- Injuries to Sidney Crosby and Marian Hossa have increased the Pittsburgh Penguins' need for secondary scoring, and Sykora has been delivering. He's scored four goals and eight points in his past five games.

Tomas Vokoun -- A three-game break appears to have given Florida's No. 1 goaltender a spark. He's 3-0-0 in his last three starts, with a 1.67 goals-against average and a .946 save percentage, sparking the Panthers into the Eastern Conference playoff race.

Brooks Laich
-- Alex Ovechkin hasn't been the only Capital filling the net. Laich has 10 goals in his past 13 games after scoring just eight goals all of last season. His outburst includes the first three two-goal games of his career after none in his first 214 games.

Joe Corvo -- The Carolina Hurricanes have gotten an offensive boost from the blue line since acquiring Corvo from Ottawa last month. He has six goals and 15 points in 14 games with the Hurricanes, including a three-goal performance against his former team Sunday.

Five down
-- Five players who've been struggling:

Paul Kariya -- A healthy chunk of the Blues' offensive struggles during the past month have to be laid at the feet of Kariya. He's gone 17 games without a goal since scoring on Valentine's Day, and has just seven assists during that span. 
Miroslav Satan -- Satan is another veteran whose offensive production has been much less than expected. He's gone 12 games without a goal, a span in which he has just two assists and is minus-7. With 14 goals, he may fail to break 20 for the first time in 10 seasons.

Daniel Sedin -- Daniel and twin brother Henrik are the engine that makes the Vancouver Canucks go, so when they struggle, so does their team. Daniel has no goals in his last 13 games, and his two assists on goals by Henrik in Monday's 3-1 win against Phoenix were his first points in six games.

Glen Murray -- Between injuries and offensive struggles, this has not been a season Murray will remember fondly. Murray has gone without a point in his past nine games for the Boston Bruins and has just 15 goals and 26 points in 54 games.

Alexander Radulov -- There's no questioning Radulov's talent, but his production for the Nashville Predators is another matter. He's gone 12 games without a goal, generating only five assists during that span, a big reason the Preds have struggled to score.

Injuries, news and notes -- Sidney Crosby is still out, but Pittsburgh is getting healthier. Marian Hossa came back Sunday after missing seven games with a knee injury. Crosby is likely to miss at least another week with a sore right ankle. He missed 21 games this season after sustaining a high ankle sprain on Jan. 18. The Penguins have yet to have all their top forwards on the ice together for a full game since acquiring Hossa at the trade deadline.

Out -- Philadelphia's injury woes continue. The Flyers lost defenseman Derian Hatcher for the season with a broken leg that was sustained when he blocked a shot in Saturday's game at Boston. Center R.J. Umberger sprained his left knee Sunday and will miss at least two weeks. The Flyers did get center Mike Richards back Saturday after he missed three weeks with a torn hamstring. … New York Islanders goaltender Rick DiPietro could be done for the season. He had an MRI on the hip he tweaked in the skills competition during All-Star Weekend and reportedly will need surgery. … Vancouver lost rookie forward Mason Raymond for 4-to-6 weeks with a sprained ligament in his left knee sustained in Monday's 3-1 win against Phoenix. …. Boston defenseman Bobby Allen went down again March 13 with another bout of back spasms. He's not likely to return before the playoffs. The Bruins are also still without their captain, Zdeno Chara, who sustained what appears to be a shoulder injury on March 8 and hasn't played since. …  Columbus forward David Vyborny sprained his left knee in Sunday's win against Detroit and will miss 7-to-10 days. The Blue Jackets will also be without starting goaltender Pascal Leclaire for at least another game; he took a shot in the mask in warmups Sunday and has sat out two games with symptoms of a concussion, though doctors didn't diagnose him with one. … Calgary defenseman Rhett Warrener is out indefinitely with a broken ankle that was diagnosed last weekend. … New Jersey forward Patrik Elias hasn't played since taking a teammate's shot in the left kneecap in overtime last Thursday in Minnesota. He's expected to sit out Wednesday's game against the Rangers. … Buffalo's defense corps, already without Jaroslav Spacek and Dmitri Kalinin due to injuries, lost Nathan Paetsch for what coach Lindy Ruff called "a pretty good period of time" due to a concussion sustained last Wednesday against Pittsburgh.

The Maple Leafs will hopefully get Mats Sundin back by the weekend.
Returning -- Toronto hopes to get captain Mats Sundin back by the weekend. The Leafs say he has a mild groin tear that was sustained last Wednesday against Philadelphia. Neither Sundin nor center Nik Antropov, who injured his knee Saturday, were in the lineup for Tuesday's road game against the Islanders. Leafs forward Mark Bell was back in the lineup on Saturday after missing 22 games due to a fractured orbital bone. … Atlanta got center Todd White back Tuesday after he missed a week with a shoulder injury. He replaced Erik Christensen, who has a sprained knee ligament. … Minnesota forward Derek Boogaard returned to the lineup Monday night after missing nearly two months with a herniated disc. … Colorado center Peter Forsberg was back in the lineup for the Avs' game with the Wild after missing four games with a groin problem. The Avs also got defenseman Adam Foote (hip) back after he missed four of five games, but were still without another defenseman, Justin Leopold, who's missed more than a week with post-concussion syndrome. Forward Ryan Smyth returned Saturday after missing two weeks with a shoulder injury. … Ottawa forward Chris Neil could be next week; he went down with torn knee ligaments in mid-February and has missed 13 games. … Buffalo hopes to get center Tim Connolly back Wednesday; he's missed three games with a sore hip. … Chicago got defenseman Brent Sopel back Sunday after he missed 12 games with a broken wrist, and goaltender Nikolai Khabibulin came on in relief for his first action since Feb. 20. He's been out with a back injury. … Florida hopes to get center Jozef Stumpel back for the last couple of weeks; he's missed the Panthers' last 12 games with a shoulder injury.

Still out --Carolina forward Chad LaRose skated for the first time Monday since breaking his leg in early February. He's still at least 10 days from being able to play. Another forward, Ray Whitney, finally had to have surgery on his injured left ankle and is expected to miss the rest of the regular season. … Nashville center David Legwand missed his fifth-straight gameTuesday night due to a sore foot. He's not likely to be back before the weekend, at the earliest … Dallas defenseman Philippe Boucher is rehabbing his injured shoulder and hopes to be back by the end of the month. He also had minor eye surgery last week. Another Stars defenseman, Sergei Zubov, hopes to get the OK to begin skating again. The All-Star has missed 25 games with a foot injury but hopes to be back before the end of the regular season. … Tampa Bay center Tim Taylor, who's missed the entire season after undergoing hip surgery, is skating again and could play before the end of the season. … Pittsburgh forward Gary Roberts is skating again, but still isn't ready to return after breaking his left leg and sustaining a high ankle sprain on Dec. 29. The Pens hope he'll be back before the playoffs. … Detroit forward Tomas Holmstrom continues to be sidelined by a groin problem that has forced him to sit out the Wings' last four games. … Chicago forward Martin Havlat's injury-filled season came to an end when he underwent shoulder surgery last week; the Hawks hope he'll be healthier in 2008-09.

The week ahead – Inter-conference play comes to an end Thursday when St. Louis visits Ottawa in the eighth game of its nine-game marathon road trip. In fact, almost every game played from Friday to the end of the season is a divisional game. Washington began the season's last long road trip, a six-game trek, on Tuesday night; the Caps spend the rest of the month on the road.

Games to watch:

The New York Rangers have won all five meetings against the New Jersey Devils this season.
New York Rangers at New Jersey (March 19) -- The Rangers have won all five meetings this season, but the Devils have been one of the NHL's hottest teams since the teams' last meeting on Feb. 1.

Anaheim at San Jose (March 21) -- Though Ducks have owned the Sharks this season, they haven't been a good road team. But San Jose hasn't been dominant at the HP Pavilion, either.

Minnesota at Calgary (March 22) -- The Wild play their third road game in four nights when they visit Pengrowth Saddledome in a meeting of two of the four teams battling for the Northwest Division lead.

Montreal at Ottawa (March 24) -- The Senators will have to continue their domination of the Canadiens (5-1-0 this season) in order to catch Montreal in their quest for the Northeast Division title.

Pittsburgh at New Jersey (March 25) -- The Penguins and Devils, vying for the Atlantic Division title, meet for the second time in four nights.
Tough week ahead:

Minnesota Wild -- If the Wild are going to win the Northwest Division, they'll have to earn it. They play four games in six nights, beginning Wednesday in San Jose and followed by a three-game swing through Western Canada.

Anaheim Ducks -- The Ducks, who are nowhere near as good on the road as they are at the Honda Center, visit Dallas, San Jose and Phoenix in a four-night span.

Ottawa Senators -- Ottawa has four games in six nights against Northwest Division rivals, including a Monday-Tuesday trip to Montreal and Buffalo.

Easy week ahead:

Atlanta Thrashers -- Atlanta has home games against Carolina on Wednesday and Washington on Friday, but doesn't play again until the following Thursday.

Buffalo Sabres -- The Sabres get some home cooking and a chance to take a breather: They're home Wednesday, Friday and Tuesday.

Dallas Stars -- Dallas, which had played more games than most teams in the League, lets the rest of the NHL catch up: The Stars have home games Wednesday and Saturday, then are off until Thursday.

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