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Hurricanes, Wild get NHL season started in Finland

by Dan Rosen
HURRICANES (0-0-0) vs. WILD (0-0-0)


Season series:
The Wild and Hurricanes split two games last season with each grabbing three points.

Big Story --
Game 1 of 1,230 in the NHL this season takes place in Helsinki as part of the 2010 Compuware NHL Premiere. Neither the Wild nor the Hurricanes made the playoffs last season, so both are looking to get off to fast starts in an unfamiliar setting. It's the perfect kickoff to a long hockey weekend with a noon ET start.

Team Scope:

Hurricanes --
A 2-13-3 start to last season virtually eliminated Carolina from contention by the middle of November. The Canes put on a good run toward the end, but still fell eight points shy of a playoff berth. They would obviously like to avoid the early struggles this season and stay healthy while they're at it.

They enter the season feeling good about their health and the way they played in the preseason. Carolina went 3-2 against the NHL this preseason, but more importantly saw enough out of youngsters like Zac Dalpe, Drayson Bowman, Jeff Skinner, Jamie McBain and Bobby Sanguinetti to keep them on the opening night roster. Carolina also feels good that goalie Cam Ward, thanks to discovering Pilates this summer, hasn't had any back issues and is in the best shape of his career.

"I'm comfortable with where we're at, but it's harder to gauge certain things when you're not in a normal environment," coach Paul Maurice said. "As far as the on-ice goes, the focus, the communication, all of the things we said at the beginning of camp we need to be good at they're good at. I believe we're where we should be right now."

Wild -- Just like their opponents in Helsinki, the Wild are coming off a forgettable first season under coach Todd Richards. They started slow and never really got going last season en route to a 13th-place finish in the Western Conference. This preseason hasn't been kind either, as the Wild went 0-6 in their North American schedule before finally winning a game Monday night against Ilves Tampere for Finland's SM-Liiga.

There are question marks about their style, their consistency and their bounce-back ability, but the Wild believe they can be answered quickly in Helsinki. There's a good feeling that goalie Niklas Backstrom is due to rebound after a relatively forgettable 2009-10 season, but that can only happen if the D in front of him plays better.

"If you look back at last year our start, we were a team trying to find itself from the first drop of the puck and we didn't get there until about November," Richards said. "It should be earlier rather than later, and really that's my focus."

Who's Hot --
Ward played exceptionally well against Atlanta in Carolina's final tune-up before leaving for Europe, and he was solid in a hostile setting in St. Petersburg, Russia on Monday night. Cal Clutterbuck scored a hat trick for the Wild against Ilves Tampere on Monday.

Injury Report --
Carolina will know more about defenseman Joe Corvo (lower-body muscle) after the morning skate Thursday. Forward Jiri Tlusty is available, but he'll likely be out because he's still working himself back into shape after knee surgery forced him to delay the start of his training camp. … Minnesota is hoping defenseman Marek Zidlicky (leg/groin) can go, but like Corvo, he's questionable. Guillaume Latendresse and Martin Havlat, who were questionable earlier in the week, appear to be ready to go.

Stat Pack -- Carolina and Minnesota have only met 11 times with the former holding a 5-3-3 edge. … Mikko Koivu has 6 points in five career games against the Hurricanes. … Only two players in this game have ties with the other team: Matt Cullen played parts of four seasons in Carolina and won a Stanley Cup with the Canes in 2006. Patrick O'Sullivan was drafted by Minnesota in the second round of the 2003 Entry Draft, but never played for the Wild.

Puck Drop -- "The language has gotten away from me here (in Helsinki), but most of these people speak English better than I do so I haven't had to branch out with the Finnish," Maurice said. "We've had great meals and this is a real clean city that in some ways has a Canadian feel to it. Everybody is smiling and happy. It's a good place to be."

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