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Blue Jackets begin key trip at Minnesota

by Deborah Francisco

BLUE JACKETS (18-16-7) at WILD (22-16-2)


Last 10: Columbus 5-4-1, Minnesota 4-6-0

Season series: This is the third and final meeting between the Minnesota Wild and Columbus Blue Jackets this season. Niklas Backstrom stopped 24 shots to fuel the Wild's 3-0 shutout victory against the Blue Jackets Sunday in Columbus.

Big story: Minnesota is looking to sweep the season series as they play host to the Blue Jackets -- but the Wild will have to find a way to put some pucks in the net; offensive struggles have dropped Minnesota to seventh in the Western Conference. The Blue Jackets are in a tie for ninth, but trail the Wild by only three points.

Team Scope:

Blue Jackets: The Blue Jackets delighted a crowd of more than 17,000 at Nationwide Arena by ending the St. Louis Blues' six-game winning streak with a solid 4-1 victory on Friday night. Columbus made the most of its 19 shots on goaltender Jake Allen, scoring four unanswered goals to improve to 13-5-5 at home.

Now comes the tough part; The Blue Jackets won't see their home fans again until the final game of the season. Their next six are on the road, beginning Saturday in St. Paul. If they're going to make the playoffs, they'll have to do it the hard way.

"Give some credit to our fans. They seemed like they got louder and louder as the game went on," said forward Cam Atkinson, who had a goal and an assist. "It's a tough stretch we're going to face now."

Wild: The Wild hope to close out a three-game homestand with a victory after dropping its last two. Minnesota has one victory in its last six games and has been shut out in back-to-back contests including a 2-0 loss to the St. Louis Blues on Thursday.

"My message to the team, and the way that we feel, is that we have nothing to apologize for and nothing to feel sorry about," Wild coach Mike Yeo said following Thursday's loss. "We played a strong team and we played a good game. I'm not saying we can't be better in a couple of areas, but obviously the completion of the game changes if we score first."

The Wild may be without their top defenseman, Ryan Suter, who left Thursday's game in the second period with an undisclosed injury and did not practice Friday.

Who's hot: Marian Gaborik is on a tear since coming to the Blue Jackets with six points in his last five games, including a goal in the win on Friday.

Injury report: The Blue Jackets are without defenseman Tim Erixon (upper body) who has missed the last six games and is questionable for Saturday … Suter is questionable; center Matt Cullen (lower body) has missed the last five games and may miss another week. Goaltender Josh Harding (illness) remains on injured reserve.

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