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Leafs, Wild prepare for rare meeting

by Frank Mentesana
MAPLE LEAFS (32-31-10) at WILD (35-30-8)


Last 10: Toronto 5-4-1; Minnesota 2-6-2.

Season Series: This is the lone meeting between the clubs. The Leafs have the all-time series edge with a 5-3-0 mark. However, the Wild have taken three of the last four matchups, including a 5-2 victory in their only meeting last season, in which Mikko Koivu notched a goal and two assists.

Big Story: Both the Wild and Maple Leafs are currently on the outside looking in, but each club is maintaining hope of finishing in the top eight in its respective conference. Toronto's hope received a jolt on Saturday with a crucial win over the Bruins. The Leafs now sit five points behind Buffalo for the eighth seed in the East, but the Sabres have one game in hand.

Meanwhile, Minnesota's post-season hope has taken a massive hit in the last couple of weeks. The Wild haven't won since March 8 and have been outscored 28-9 during their current six-game losing streak. The skid has dropped them to 11th in the West, seven points out of a playoff spot; and not only would a loss to Toronto put them further out of playoff contention, but it would also set a Wild franchise record for consecutive losses.

Team Scope:

Maple Leafs: With the team's top two goal-scorers, Phil Kessel and Mikhail Grabovski, in a minor drought lately, the Leafs happily welcomed production from some unlikely sources in their 5-2 victory against Boston on Saturday. Nazem Kadri -- the seventh overall pick in 2009 -- scored his first NHL goal and notched an assist, Joey Crabb tallied a goal and two assists, and fourth-liner Mike Brown chipped in with a goal, as did Luke Schenn and Keith Aulie, in a significant win. Toronto, 13-6-5 since the All-Star break, matched its points total from last season on a night when all of its offense came from players who have combined for just 13 goals all season -- no more than four for any player. 

"Good teams, they get contributions all the way up and down the lineup," Crabb said. Kadri echoed that sentiment, "If you want to make the playoffs, you need secondary scoring."

Wild: The Wild are finding themselves on the wrong side of historical notes -- and at the worst time of the year, to boot. In addition to their current losing streak, which matches a franchise worst set in December of 2008, they are coming off their worst loss in team history. P.K. Subban became the first Canadiens rookie defenseman to have a hat trick, as he led the offensive onslaught in Montreal's 8-1 trouncing of the Wild on Sunday at the Xcel Energy Center. Prior to that, the Wild had never given up more than seven goals in a home game and had never lost any game by more than six.

"Our execution was probably the worst I've seen in just about two years now here," Minnesota coach Todd Richards said. "Decisions with the puck, without the puck, our defensemen were chasing back a lot. I felt bad for Theo (goalie Jose Theodore) because we put him in some really tough predicaments on the ice.

"I need to be better as a coach, and the players need to be better as players."

Who's Hot: Koivu, who scored the Wild's lone goal on a penalty shot on Sunday, has two goals and three assists in four games since missing 11 games because of a broken finger. Niklas Backstrom, who relieved Theodore in the second period on Sunday, is 6-2-2 with a 1.96 goals-against average in his last 10 home starts and should get the nod versus Toronto. …Leafs' rookie netminder James Reimer has won his last two starts, allowing just three goals on 74 shots against.

Injury Report: Toronto defenseman Mike Komisarek (minor groin injury) is not expected to play against Minnesota, but he might play at some point in this three-game road trip, according to coach Ron Wilson. Darryl Boyce left Saturday's game with an upper-body injury and is questionable for Tuesday's game against the Wild. Forwards Colton Orr (concussion) and Colby Armstrong (broken foot) remain sidelined. …Add injuries to the Wild's recent problems: they will be without defenseman Marco Scandella on Tuesday, who broke his finger after a shot hit his glove in Saturday's game against Columbus. Defenseman Cam Barker (upper body) and winger Guillaume Latendresse (lower body) are questionable for Tuesday's matchup. Marek Zidlicky (hamstring) is not expected to play, and goaltender Josh Harding (knee) is still out, though he has been practicing with the team.

Stat Pack: The Wild have recorded just one power-play goal in their last 16 opportunities. Toronto hasn't been much better, converting just three of 42 chances with the man advantage over its last 11 games.

Puck Drop: Reimer channeled Yogi Berra after Saturday’s win over the Bruins: "It's not over 'till it's over," he said. "We've got to keep winning, take care of our business, and hope that other teams give us a chance and beat the teams we're trying to catch. It's a little bit of scoreboard-watching. All we can do is play our best and hope that's good enough for now."

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