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Blues provide challenge as Wild try to break skid

by Dan Myers

BLUES (26-7-5) at WILD (20-16-5)


Last 10: St. Louis 7-1-2; Minnesota 3-7-0

Season series: This is the second of five games between the St. Louis Blues and Minnesota Wild. Alexander Steen scored two goals and Jaroslav Halak stopped all 22 shots he faced as the Blues defeated the Wild 3-0 at Scottrade Center on Nov. 25.

Big story: The Wild are coming off their most disappointing loss of the season, a 5-4 home defeat to the New York Islanders on Sunday in which Minnesota led 3-0 in the second period. Overall, the Wild have lost five straight and have slipped to fifth place in the Central Division standings.

Team Scope:

Blues: The Blues enter play Tuesday alone in second place in the Central Division with 57 points and own the best goal differential in the NHL at plus-45. The Blues are coming off perhaps their most impressive 24-hour stretch of the season; they beat the Chicago Blackhawks 6-5 in a shootout in St. Louis on Saturday night, then went on the road and beat the Dallas Stars 3-2 in overtime on Sunday. The victories kept the Blues undefeated in regulation in division play this season (12-0-1).

"Yeah, I think we're happy with getting four points out of four," forward Jaden Schwartz said. "Pretty gutsy wins by us, a nice comeback win [Saturday] and kind of a character win for us [Sunday]. So it's definitely nice getting that extra point both nights."

The Blues have defeated the Wild in six straight meetings dating back to Nov. 19, 2011, a game the Wild won 3-2 in a shootout.

Wild: It's hard to believe Minnesota was once one of the hottest teams in the NHL. After starting November 9-1-1 and climbing within two points of the division-leading Blackhawks, the Wild's 3-0 loss to the Blues before Thanksgiving started a tailspin that's only gotten worse of late. The Wild are 5-11-1 since that loss and have dropped to 10th place in the Western Conference.

One of the worst road teams in the League, Minnesota concluded an 0-4-0 trip last Friday against the Winnipeg Jets and returned to St. Paul for a critical four-game homestand. Only three teams have more home victories than the Wild this season, but even that couldn't stop the bleeding Sunday against the Islanders.

"Obviously, everybody is frustrated," forward Nino Niederreiter said. "That's a game we should have won. We all know what's going to happen, we have a big game against St. Louis. It's a must-win for us."

Who's hot: Schwartz has scored a goal in five straight games and has already established career highs in goals, assists and points in 36 games this season. His 13 goals are tied for third on the Blues and his plus-18 is also a team high. … Wild defenseman Ryan Suter saw his career-high (and franchise record for a defenseman) seven-game point streak end last Friday in Winnipeg but started a new streak Sunday against the Islanders. His goal 3:22 into the game was his first of the season and fifth since joining the Wild prior to last season. His 22 assists this season are tied with Mikko Koivu for best on the team.

Injury report: Steen (concussion) is out for St. Louis. Captain David Backes (upper body), who was hurt Saturday against the Blackhawks, will miss his second straight game. … Wild forward Zach Parise (lower body) and defenseman Clayton Stoner (lower body) are out. Defenseman Jared Spurgeon (undisclosed) missed practice Monday, but will play.

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