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Desperate teams collide as Blues visit Wild

by John Kreiser

BLUES (32-26-9) at WILD (32-29-6)

Last 10 -- St. Louis 7-3-0; Minnesota 4-4-2

Season series -- It's the fourth and final meeting between the team this season in a series that's been owned by the home team. St. Louis won 3-1 and 1-0 at the Scottrade Center, sandwiched around Minnesota's 4-3 win at the Xcel Energy Center on the night after Christmas.

Big story -- Both teams are chasing a berth in the top eight in the West -- and they're running out of time. Despite winning seven of eight, including Saturday's 5-1 win at Columbus, the Blues are still five points behind eighth-place Detroit. Minnesota is in even more danger of missing the playoffs -- the Wild are eight points out despite hanging on for a 3-2 win at Buffalo on Friday.

Team Scope:

Blues -- The Blues looked like a road-weary team in the first period at Columbus, but were superb in the final 40 minutes as they blew away the Jackets to improve to 4-1-0 on their post-Olympic trip that ends in St. Paul -- they go home to host Colorado on Tuesday before playing two more on the road.

Coach Davis Payne said he spent the first intermission telling his club to be more aggressive. Whatever he told them, it worked -- the Blues scored three goals in the second period and never looked back.

"Once we started to make the decision to finish our plays at their net and apply that kind of pressure, we were a much better hockey team," he said. "And that's what we talked about after the first. Sometimes you have to make those adjustments within your game."

Wild -- Minnesota's playoff hopes got a boost on Friday night when backup goaltender Josh Harding came up big, stopping 43 shots as the Wild built a 3-0 lead and held on for a 3-2 victory at Buffalo. It was a big rebound for Harding, who was beaten 5-1 in Detroit on Thursday in a game he started after Niklas Backstrom went down with a groin injury during the morning skate.

"I didn't play in a month before that game in Detroit, so I knew I was going to be a little shaky. But I didn't expect to be that shaky," Harding said. "So I had to forget about the past and look forward to the future."

Who's hot -- Blues center Andrew McDonald had a goal and a pair of assists on Saturday and has six points in five games. Goalie Chris Mason is 4-1-0 since the Olympic break and has allowed just nine goals. … Minnesota forward Guillaume Latendresse has 4 goals in his last five games and 22 in 42 games since being acquired from Montreal.

Injury report -- St. Louis is still without forwards Keith Tkachuk (finger surgery). … Minnesota goaltender Niklas Backstrom has missed the Wild's last two games after injuring his groin in the morning skate on Thursday. Defensemen Shane Hnidy (leg) and Brent Burns (hip) also missed the last two games.

Stat pack -- The Blues' 20 road wins are their most in 10 years. They had 27 in 1999-2000, when they won the Central Division.

Puck drop -- Neither team can afford, a loss, which ought to make this a very spirited game. The Wild has been among the NHL's best home teams, while the Blues are a better club on the road than they are at the Scottrade Center.

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