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Canucks start five-game trip with visit to Minnesota

by Dan Rosen /

CANUCKS (9-7-0) at WILD (5-9-0)

Last 10 -- Canucks 7-3-0; Wild 4-6-0

Season series -- This is the second of six meetings between the Northwest Division rivals. Vancouver took the first encounter 2-1 at GM Place on Oct. 17. Ryan Kesler and Mikael Samuelsson scored for Vancouver after Mikko Koivu gave the Wild a 1-0 lead in the first period. Roberto Luongo needed to make only 17 saves for the win. Nicklas Backstrom made 37 saves in a losing effort.

Big story -- The Wild have had four days to, as coach Todd Richards said, fix things. They have won back-to-back one-goal games, showing they may be getting it together under the new coach. This will be a good test as the Canucks are hot right now with solid wins in their last two games thanks to excellent goaltending from backup Andrew Raycroft. Tonight's game also starts a five-game road trip for the Canucks.

Team Scope:

Canucks -- Raycroft isn't making fans in Vancouver forget about Roberto Luongo, but he's at least making the captain's absence bearable. Raycroft shut out Colorado on Sunday and allowed only one goal to the Rangers on Tuesday night. He made 40 saves over the two games and is 3-1 in the absence of Luongo and finished Tuesday night with a League-best 1.52 goals-against average. The Canucks as a whole are banged up with six forwards out of the lineup, but Kesler has been doing just about everything and Samuelsson has taken up some of the scoring slack with a team-high eight goals, including two against the Rangers. The team has been sound defensively in three of the last four games. The good news is that Luongo is on the road trip and is close to returning.

Wild -- After winning only once in their first seven games, the Wild have won four of their last seven, including the last two in regulation. They beat the Rangers 3-2 at home on Friday. The next night they won 2-1 at Pittsburgh. Richards said he senses an enthusiasm on the ice that wasn't there in the early going. Winning, of course, does that. The Wild spent most of their up-tempo and high energy practice Wednesday on special teams. They led the NHL in penalty killing (88 percent) and were 14th in power play (21.3 percent) heading into Wednesday's games. Andrew Brunette was also back practicing after resting what he calls a left body injury, according to the Minneapolis Star-Tribune.

Who's hot -- Kesler had three assists against the Rangers and has five points in his last two games. If he isn't already, he's nearing lock status when it comes to the U.S. Olympic team. Eric Belanger scored goals in both of Minnesota's wins this past weekend and is tied with Koivu for the team lead with 12 points.

Injury report -- The Canucks are ravaged by injuries. Luongo (broken rib) and Jannik Hansen (hand) are on the trip and close to returning, but Daniel Sedin (shoulder), Ryan Johnson (upper body), Alexander Bolduc (upper body), Michael Grabner (foot) and Pavol Demitra (shoulder) are also out. The Wild will be without defenseman Kim Johnsson (upper body) and forward Pierre-Marc Bouchard (concussion). Brunette is also banged up but he should play.

Stat pack -- Kesler entered Wednesday leading all American-born players with 16 points (5-11-16) in 16 games. … The Canucks were 5-0-1 against Minnesota last season as Henrik Sedin paced them with 1 goal and 8 assists in the six games. … The 37 saves Backstrom made in the first meeting against the Canucks is the most he's made since stopping the same amount of shots in a season-opening loss to Columbus. Despite the rough start for Minnesota, Backstrom still owns a 2.50 GAA and .916 save percentage. He's allowed two or fewer goals in seven of his 12 starts -- but three of those were losses.

Puck drop -- "The mood around the locker room and on the ice feels completely different," Richards told the Star-Tribune. "But we can't think everything's fine now that we've won two in a row. The teams that know how to win have learned they have to prove themselves every single day."

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