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Closing in on playoff spot, Wild visit Jets

by Dan Myers

WILD (40-26-12) at JETS (35-34-10)


Last 10: Minnesota 5-3-2; Winnipeg 4-5-1

Season series: The Minnesota Wild and Winnipeg Jets faced each other four times over the first three months of the season, but haven't played since Dec. 27. Winnipeg won 6-4 that night at MTS Centre, the Jets' only win against the Wild this season.

Big story: With four games remaining, the Wild are on the verge of clinching their second consecutive berth in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. With 92 points, Minnesota leads the Dallas Stars by five points and Phoenix Coyotes by six points in the Western Conference wild-card race.

Team Scope:

Wild: Minnesota's magic number to clinch a playoff spot is three (combination of Wild points and Coyotes missed points). The Wild are 16-17-7 on the road this season and a win Monday against Winnipeg would mean a .500 record on the road this season. Minnesota has taken at least a point in eight of 11 road games since the Olympic break, going 5-3-3 over that span.

The Wild have earned at least a point in four straight games, including a 4-0 win against the Pittsburgh Penguins on Saturday. Minnesota got two goals from its fourth line, including a two-point night from Cody McCormick, acquired with Matt Moulson at the NHL Trade Deadline from the Buffalo Sabres. The points were his first in 10 games with the Wild. McCormick had been a healthy scratch in the three games prior to Saturday.

"First off, it's not even necessarily about him. We're still trying to get to know him," Wild coach Mike Yeo said. "This is the first game, it was the first opportunity that we even had a chance to watch him in D-zone coverage. To get comfortable with how he played in practice in that situation, to see that he's grasped our system there, gave us an opportunity to get him into the game."

Jets: While the Jets franchise will miss the playoffs for the seventh straight season and third straight since moving to Winnipeg prior to the 2011-12 season, they have been much improved since Paul Maurice was named coach on Jan. 12. Four wins in March essentially squashed any hopes the Jets had at rallying for a playoff berth this season, but Winnipeg is 16-11-5 since Maurice took over.

With Winnipeg's offseason beginning Saturday, Maurice said over the weekend he is hoping to be included in the Jets' future plans.

"You want a chance to get in on that ground floor and have a little experience when you do that, so it's not a matter of just grinding them into the ice next year to make your point that you're a tough coach," Maurice told the National Post. "But developing relationships with these players at a young age, where you can have an impact and a bit of a mentorship on them, that's exciting, to be able to build something."

Who's hot: Minnesota goaltender Ilya Bryzgalov continued the impressive beginning to his run with the Wild in their win against the Penguins, improving to 5-0-3 since being traded to the Wild the day before the NHL Trade Deadline. He has a 1.87 goals-against average, two shutouts and a .920 save percentage. … Jets forward Blake Wheeler has three assists in his past two games and has at least a point in five of his past six. He leads the Jets with 27 goals and 67 points this season.

Injury report: Minnesota forwards Mikael Granlund (upper body) and Jason Zucker (quad), defenseman Clayton Stoner (lower body) and goaltenders Darcy Kuemper (upper body), Josh Harding (illness) and Niklas Backstrom (abdominal) are out. Defenseman Keith Ballard (groin) is questionable. … Winnipeg will be without forwards Dustin Byfuglien (muscle tear), James Wright (ankle), Chris Thorburn (foot), Mark Scheifele (sprained MCL), defensemen Grant Clitsome (back), Keaton Ellerby (lower body) and Zach Bogosian (upper body) and goaltender Al Montoya (lower body). Forward Andrew Ladd (undisclosed) may also be sidelined.

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