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Blues look to get back on track vs. Wild

by Dan Myers

BLUES (52-20-7) at WILD (42-26-12)


Last 10: St. Louis 5-5-0; Minnesota 6-3-1

Season series: This is the fifth and final game. The St. Louis Blues have won all four games against the Minnesota Wild, including each of two games at Xcel Energy Center, where the Wild are 14-7-5 all-time against the Blues.

Big story: The Blues are ahead of the Wild in the standings, but they have much more at stake Thursday. The Wild clinched the top wild-card spot in the Western Conference's Stanley Cup Playoff race with a 4-3 shootout win against the Boston Bruins on Tuesday. The Blues (111 points) are two points ahead of the Colorado Avalanche in the race for the Central Division title and one point behind the Anaheim Ducks for the top spot in the Western Conference.

Team Scope:

Blues: St. Louis, which until recently had the best record in the NHL, has lost three games in a row and trails Boston by three points in the race for the Presidents' Trophy. With five wins in their past 10 games, the Blues are in danger of having the Avalanche, who are 7-1-2 in their past 10, pass them and claim the top spot in the Central. The team that wins the division will avoid a first-round playoff series against the defending Stanley Cup champion Chicago Blackhawks.

"Maybe we were guilty of looking too far ahead," coach Ken Hitchcock said. "Now the last three games have caught our attention. Now it's back to work."

Wild: Unlike last season, when Minnesota backed into the playoffs on the regular season's final day, the Wild are rolling right now. Minnesota has taken at least a point in seven of its past 10 games, opening up a healthy lead for a wild-card spot on the Dallas Stars and Phoenix Coyotes before clinching a berth Tuesday.

"Last year, it was disappointing how we made the playoffs," defenseman Ryan Suter said after the game Tuesday night. "This year, we've been playing well and played ourself into the playoffs the way that you want to."

Who's hot: St. Louis forward Alexander Steen, who returned Tuesday from an upper-body injury that cost him three games, has three goals and seven points in his past six games. He leads the Blues with 33 goals and 60 points despite missing 14 games with an injury earlier this season. … Minnesota forward Erik Haula has flourished on the second line in place of injured Mikael Granlund. The rookie has a point in four of his past five games and five points (two goals, three assists) in eight games.

Injury report: Blues forwards David Backes (upper body) and Vladimir Tarasenko (thumb) are out. … Wild forwards Mikael Granlund (upper body) and Jason Zucker (quad), defensemen Clayton Stoner (knee) and Keith Ballard (groin) and goaltenders Darcy Kuemper (upper body), Josh Harding (illness) and Niklas Backstrom (abdominal) are expected to miss the game.

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