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Blues and Wild battle for pride

by Pete Jensen
BLUES (33-32-9) at WILD (35-31-8)

TV -- FS-MW (HD), FS-N (HD)

Last 10 -
St. Louis 5-5-0; Minnesota 2-6-2

Season series - Saturday night's game at Xcel Energy Center will be the first leg of a home-and-home series and the third of four meetings this season between the Wild and Blues. Minnesota and St. Louis will square off for the final time this season on Tuesday at Scottrade Center. The two clubs met twice last month, with the Wild winning both games.

Big story - Both teams' playoff hopes are all but over entering this home-and-home set. Minnesota sits in 11th place in the West, nine points out of the final playoff spot, while St. Louis is 12 points behind eighth-seeded Anaheim.

Team Scope:

Blues -
The last time the Blues met the Wild for a home-and-home series in February, they lost both games to dampen their then-realistic playoff hopes. St. Louis comes into the game 13th in the West with eight games remaining, looking to finish its season on a positive note - especially away from home.

The Blues' strong performance at Scottrade Center this season has been derailed by the team's road woes, as St. Louis owns the NHL's second-worst record away from home.

Injuries have been an issue all season for the Blues, but the recent play of center T.J. Oshie has been an encouraging sign moving in St. Louis. The Blues' former first-round pick missed time early in the season due to injury, but has bounced back recently with 4 goals in nine games. Oshie had a goal and an assist in Thursday's 4-0 home blanking of the Oilers.

"Obviously, a huge part of it is playing for the fans that have supported us all year, even in our darkest hours when we weren't playing very good there," Oshie said after Thursday's win. "We'll play for them and from here on out and the guys sitting next to us."

Wild -- Two weeks ago, Minnesota was tied for the eighth spot in the Western Conference and in position to secure its first playoff berth since the 2007-08 season. But seven straight losses later, the clock is ticking and the Wild are searching for answers.

With their playoff hopes hanging in the balance, Minnesota opened up a crucial four-game homestand last Saturday against Columbus, but lost 5-4 in overtime. Consecutive losses to Montreal (8-1) and Toronto (3-0) have left the Wild all but out of the race.

"I think guys are squeezing sticks," center Matt Cullen said. "We all understand where we're at. Everybody wants to win badly."

Who's hot - Jaroslav Halak got his second shutout in four starts as St. Louis topped Edmonton, 4-0, on Thursday night. The shutout was Halak's sixth of the season, a career-high for the 25-year-old netminder. … Minnesota forward John Madden has provided a much-needed source of experience for the Wild during the recent losing skid. The 37-year-old veteran has three points in his last four games.

Injury report - Minnesota defenseman Marek Zidlicky returned to practice for the first time since suffering a lower-body injury nearly two weeks ago in Vancouver. Zidlicky and winger Cal Clutterbuck (illness) will be game-time decisions for the Wild. Cam Barker (back), Josh Harding (knee), Guillaume Latendresse (lower body), Marco Scandella (finger) and James Sheppard (knee) remain out. … Blues' center Patrik Berglund (undisclosed injury) is with the team on its trip to St. Paul, but is listed as questionable for the game. Barret Jackman (finger) and Alexander Steen (ankle) are out for the season. Vladimir Sobotka (foot) has been practicing and is getting closer to a return to the lineup. David Perron (concussion-like symptoms) has been out since November and won't play until next season.

Stat pack - In the Blues' win on Thursday, Halak stopped all 12 shots by Edmonton, matching the lowest total for any NHL goaltender in a shutout this season. Anaheim's Jonas Hiller faced only 12 shots in his 4-0 shutout of the Oilers on Feb. 13.

Puck drop - With the regular season winding down for both teams, pride will be on the line on in St. Paul. The teams had two physical battles in mid-February, both of which went Minnesota's way. Both teams want to close strong.

"[The Blues] play with a lot of grit, so when you're matched up against those teams and especially another home-and-home with them, it's going to be a battle." Wild defenseman Clayton Stoner said.

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