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Blues look to stay perfect vs. Wild

by Sean McCullen

WILD (37-25-11) at BLUES (49-16-7)


Last 10: Minnesota 3-3-4; St. Louis 7-2-1

Season series: The St. Louis Blues have won the first three games against the Minnesota Wild, including a 3-2 shootout victory March 9. They will play one more time this season, on April 10 in Minnesota.

Big story: St. Louis enters with a six-point lead over the Chicago Blackhawks for first place in the Central Division and a two-point lead over the San Jose Sharks for the top spot in the Western Conference in the race to the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Minnesota is three points ahead of the Phoenix Coyotes for the top Western Conference wild-card spot; the Wild are six points clear of the Dallas Stars, who have the most points of any current non-qualifier.

Team Scope:

Wild: Minnesota failed to extend its lead over Phoenix in the wild-card race Wednesday, losing 5-2 at home to the Vancouver Canucks despite outshooting Vancouver 31-19.

"Weird game, weird game, that's for sure," coach Mike Yeo said. "It was weird in the sense that we were getting chances, we're outshooting them by a fairly large margin, but it still didn't feel right."

The Wild's penalty kill surrendered another goal. It is ranked 27th (79.4 percent) in the NHL.

Goalie Darcy Kuemper was pulled after he allowed three goals on 12 shots. Ilya Bryzgalov, who had started three of the previous four games, made five saves in relief.

Blues: David Backes scored three goals Tuesday in a 5-3 win against the Toronto Maple Leafs. The victory allowed St. Louis to wrap up a four-game road trip at 2-2-0 after it lost the first two games.

After scoring a career-worst six goals in 48 games last season, Backes has 27 goals, four off his career-high of 31, which he reached twice, in 2008-09 and 2010-11.

"He's not just a checker; he's a guy that can play in both ends of the rink. He's very good offensively. He's underrated offensively," coach Ken Hitchcock said. "I think people are starting to see that."

The Blues boast top-10 ranks from each of its special-teams units. Their penalty kill is ranked third (85.6 percent) in the NHL, and the power play is ninth (20.1 percent) in the League.

Who's hot: Wild center Charlie Coyle has a goal in three straight games. Defenseman Jared Spurgeon has at least a point in four of five games. He has one goal and four assists over that span. … Blues left wing Alexander Steen has four points (one goal) in the past two games. He was a plus-4 against Toronto.

Injury report: Minnesota defensemen Clayton Stoner (knee) and Keith Ballard (groin) are day-to-day. Goalie Niklas Backstrom (core muscle) and forward Jason Zucker (left quadriceps) each had surgery Tuesday and are out for the rest of the season. Goalie Josh Harding (multiple sclerosis) is on injured reserve. … St. Louis defenseman Jordan Leopold (ankle) and forward Derek Roy (lower body) are day-to-day. Forward Vladimir Tarasenko (hand) will miss the rest of the regular season.

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