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Canucks hope to avoid another Wild night in Minnesota

by Matthew Mankiewich

CANUCKS (27-17-2) at WILD (23-20-3)

Last 10 -- Vancouver 7-1-2, Minnesota 6-4-0

Season series -- It's Game 4 of the six-game season series, and the Canucks have all three wins, but none has come easy. They had to sneak an extra puck past a strong Niklas Backstrom to pull out a 2-1 win on Oct. 17, make a 2-0 start hold in a 5-2 win on Nov. 5 and eke out a close one, 4-3 on Dec. 12.

Big story -- The Canucks have caught fire since Daniel Sedin returned to the lineup. They went 12-10 while he recovered from a broken foot and have been 15-7-2 since. A 7-1-2 stretch vaulted them into striking range in the Northwest Division, only two points behind the Flames and Avalanche. Only a 3-2 setback at the hands of the Predators Monday night has cramped the Canucks' style at all.

The Wild haven't exactly stood still, either, using their famed home-ice advantage to full effect by taking the first three games of a four-game stand against some pretty solid competition in the Penguins, Flames and Blackhawks. It's a matchup of two hot teams in a scalding Western Conference race.

Team scope

Canucks -- Vancouver's top unit of the Sedin twins and Alex Burrows has been lighting up the scoreboard, but center Mason Raymond has quietly been having a terrific season.

Although he didn't score against Nashville, he has a career-high 17 goals and 31 points through 46 games. He did have a team-high six shots on goal against the Predators while using his speed and puckhandling skills to generate chances. He got 21:09 of ice time -- a lot for a player who doesn't skate on the first line.

Wild -- Saturday in the XcelEnergyCenter was a historic night for the Wild. Fresh off a 4-1 win over the Flames, they fell behind 5-1 to the Western Conference-leading Blackhawks by the second intermission. What followed was the biggest comeback in franchise history. Four unanswered goals forced overtime and the Wild took it in the shootout 6-5. Those four tallies came against a team that had surrendered only 27 third-period goals all season. Guillaume Latendresse's second goal of the night brought the Wild all the way back.

Backstrom had been pulled from nets and replaced with Josh Harding, who worked a flawless third period and stopped seven of eight shootout attempts to complete the comeback.

"If we didn't win that game, it'd be like climbing a mountain and falling off the top," Harding told the Minneapolis Star-Tribune.

They carried that momentum to Monday's game with the Penguins, outscoring the defending Stanley Cup champs 4-3 and Latendresse, selected right behind Sidney Crosby in the 2003 Quebec Major Junior Hockey League draft and shipped out of Montreal earlier this season, turned in a career-high four-point game.

Who's hot -- It's hard to get much hotter than Burrows -- he was named First Star of the Week by the NHL before Monday's two-goal performance. But he hasn't been doing it alone. Linemate and League points leader Henrik Sedin hasn't been shut out since Dec. 20 for a total of 20 points (5 goals, 15 assists) in 10 games. Brother Daniel has only one oh-fer in that stretch and has put up 18 points (5 goals, 13 assists). Mikael Samuelsson had a seven-game point streak stopped Monday. Ryan Kesler has seven points in six games.

Latendresse has been an absolute gem since arriving from the Canadiens. He has 10 goals and 15 points in Minnesota and since Dec. 15, leads the League with eight even-strength goals.

Injury report -- Wild forward Pierre-Marc Bouchard (concussion) is no closer to returning, telling the Star-Tribune, "I've been feeling better for a few weeks now. I'm just not able to get over that little hump I'm supposed to be. It's just waiting, just resting. I'm feeling better, but I'm not quite there where I can start exercising yet."

Canucks forward Steve Bernier (groin) sat out Monday's game and is still questionable. Forward Ryan Johnson skated for the first time Monday since injuring his foot. Pavol Demitra (shoulder) has been skating with the team and says he is close. Defenseman Aaron Rome suffered a cut on his face in the Phoenix game and remains day-to-day.

Stat pack -- The Wild are 15-6 when Latendresse is in the lineup, 8-1 when he gets a point. Daniel Sedin has 499 career points going into Wednesday's action.

Puck drop -- This is the type of game you hope you get in your partial season pack. The Canucks have been on a roll, and the Wild are playing their best hockey of the season.

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