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Canadiens, Wild aim to put respective struggles aside

by Tal Pinchevsky
WILD (28-26-9) at CANADIENS (24-30-10)

TV: CBC, RDS (HD), FS-North+ (HD), FS-Wisconsin (HD)

Last 10:
Minnesota 3-6-1; Montreal 3-6-1

Season Series:
This is the first and only meeting between these teams, who last played March 20. That night, P.K. Subban earned his first NHL hat trick and David Desharnais and Benoit Pouliot both collected three assists in an 8-1 Habs dismantling of the Wild. The Wild haven't visited Montreal since Dec. 17, 2009, when they topped Montreal 3-1.

Big Story: February might be the shortest month of the calendar year, but it couldn't end fast enough for these two teams. Minnesota and Montreal started the month with modest hopes of making the postseason, but their respective overall records in the month have made it increasingly unlikely that they'll make the playoffs. The Wild finished with a 4-7-2 record in February while Montreal's current five-game skid gave them a 5-8-1 record to close out the month.

Team Scope:

Wild: After sustaining a rough stretch through February in which it lost seven straight, Minnesota reinvigorated its playoff hopes with three wins in four games. The last win in that stretch came against San Jose, a team ahead of the Wild in the Western Conference standings. Before starting a stretch in which they play four of five games on the road, the Wild looked to continue their improved play as they hosted Los Angeles Tuesday night.

Justin Williams got things started early for Los Angeles when he opened the scoring just 44 seconds into the game. Minnesota goaltender Niklas Backstrom would allow three first-period goals on just eight shots, setting the tone for a tough night at the office. Jordan Nolan would score near the end of the second period, finishing off a 4-0 Wild loss in which they outshot the visiting team 26-15. The loss, punctuated by a sluggish third period in which the teams combined for a mere eight shots, gave the Wild an 8-19-6 record since Dec. 10.

Canadiens: While the Wild were struggling, Montreal was enjoying a 5-1-1 stretch it hoped might put them back in the Eastern Conference playoff hunt. But that run was tempered by a five-game skid to end the month, which included a disastrous 0-3-0 road trip against three teams ahead of the Canadiens in the conference standings. It ended with a hard-fought loss against the Lightning on Tuesday night.

In Tampa Bay, Steven Stamkos opened the scoring with his League-leading 44th goal of the season before Desharnais tied the game with his career-high 13th of the season, a goal that allowed him to take over the team scoring lead over linemate Max Pacioretty. Tampa Bay would retake the lead just 28 seconds into the second period when Adam Hall finished off a nifty centering pass from Ryan Malone, who was ejected from the game just a few minutes later when he went after Montreal defenseman Alexei Yemelin. The outburst was a response to Emelin's hit earlier in the period, which earned the Russian defenseman an interference penalty. From there, former Habs backstop Mathieu Garon took over, making countless big stops. Garon would finish with 23 stops to give the Lightning the 2-1 win and Montreal its fifth straight loss.

Who's Hot: With 4 points in his last five games, Dany Heatley has led the Wild. … Desharnais has paced the Habs with 3 points in his last two games.

Injury Report: The Wild have Mikko Koivu (shoulder), Pierre-Marc Bouchard (concussion), Guillaume Latendresse (post-concussion syndrome), Clayton Stoner (lower body), Mike Lundin (lower body), and Jarrod Palmer (upper body) on injured reserve. … Montreal's IR list is also heavily populated and includes Andrei Markov (knee), Brian Gionta (bicep surgery), Travis Moen (upper body), and Mike Blunden (knee surgery). Mathieu Darche is doubtful after exiting a game last week with dizziness.

Stat Pack:
These two teams will be looking to snap out of a troubling offensive slump. Minnesota has scored two goals or less in five of its last six games while Montreal has scored just five total goals over the course of its current five-game slide.

Puck Drop: This game pits two teams who have had real difficulty closing out opponents all season. The Wild and Canadiens have respective win percentages of .773 and .741 when leading after two periods -- two of the five worst percentages in the League. Montreal's .600 and Minnesota's .588 win percentages when leading after one period are also two of the four lowest rates in the League.

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