WILD (23-17-5) at COYOTES (21-12-9)
TV: FS-N, FS-A
Last 10: Minnesota 4-6-0; Phoenix 3-3-4
Season series: This is the second of three games between these Western Conference teams. The Phoenix Coyotes defeated the Minnesota Wild 3-1 at Xcel Energy Center on Nov. 27 with two goals from forward Radim Vrbata.
Big story: The Wild have won three straight games, and a victory Thursday would make it their longest winning streak of the season. The Coyotes have split the first four games in a six-game homestand, their longest of the season. The teams are even in the race for the final wild-card spot in the Western Conference with 51 points, but Phoenix is ahead because it has three games in hand.
Wild: Minnesota wraps up a brief two-game road trip and remains in the playoff hunt despite a rash of injuries to key players. Captain and team scoring leader Mikko Koivu was placed on injured reserve Monday due to ankle surgery, while top-line left wing Zach Parise last played on Dec. 22 due to a lower-body injury. Even goaltender Niklas Backstrom, who has been filling in regularly for starter Josh Harding while he deals with an unspecified illness, was moved to the backup role Tuesday as a result of abdominal soreness.
But 23-year-old goalie Darcy Kuemper was up to the task in a 2-1 shootout win against the Los Angeles Kings, making 39 saves throughout regulation and overtime and stopping all four Kings' attempts in the shootout to earn his first victory of the season.
"I'm real happy for Darcy," coach Mike Yeo said. "He got thrown into a situation where he didn't know he was going to play until [the] morning, and he responded very well."
Coyotes: Goaltender Mike Smith has struggled recently, but backup Thomas Greiss has been picking up the slack when called upon by coach Dave Tippett. Smith is 1-4-3 in his past eight decisions and was pulled in favor of Greiss on Dec. 31, a game which the Coyotes defeated the Edmonton Oilers in overtime, with Greiss earning the win in relief.
While there is no indication of even the slightest goalie controversy in Phoenix, Greiss earned his first shutout of the season Tuesday in a 6-0 win against the Calgary Flames and is 3-0-1 in his past four appearances, including a 97:32 shutout streak.
"When a goaltender makes things look fairly easy or difficult shots that look like routine saves, then he's playing well," Tippett said of Greiss.
The Coyotes said Smith will return to face the Wild.
Who's hot: Defenseman Ryan Suter has five goals and two assists in the past five games for Minnesota. … Left wing Mikkel Boedker has three goals and two assists in the past four games for Phoenix. He has career highs in goals (13) and points (29)
Injury report: Besides Koivu, Parise and Harding, defenseman Jared Spurgeon (lower body) is out indefinitely for the Wild. Yeo said following the game Tuesday he expected Backstrom to be "fine [Wednesday]" regarding the abdominal ailment. … Coyotes defenseman Oliver Ekman-Larsson (upper body) skated in practice Wednesday, and the team said he will play Thursday. Forward Kyle Chipchura (lower body) will not and is day-to-day. Defenseman Zbynek Michalek (lower body) is on injured reserve.