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Minnesota Wild vs. Anaheim Ducks

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GAME: Minnesota Wild (21-25-17-2) at Anaheim Mighty Ducks (23-26-9-8).

TIME: Wednesday, 10:30 p.m. EST.

Ten months ago, the Anaheim Mighty Ducks and Minnesota Wild were battling for a spot in the Stanley Cup finals.

Now both teams face an uphill battle to simply return to the playoffs.

Side-by-side at the wrong end of the Western Conference standings, Anaheim and Minnesota face off in a matchup of disappointing teams fighting to make the postseason.

The Ducks are 11th in the West with 63 points, nine out of the eighth and final playoff spot. The Wild have 61 points with 17 games remaining, one fewer than Anaheim.

Last season, these clubs both made unexpected runs to the conference finals. The Ducks won a double-overtime thriller in Game 1 and swept the series behind the outstanding goaltending of Jean-Sebastien Giguere.

Last year's Conn Smythe Trophy winner has been mediocre in 2003-04, but Giguere is coming off his best month of the season. He went 6-5-1 with a 2.19 goals-against average in February after totaling just seven wins in the first four months of the season.

Another reason Anaheim is in danger of missing the postseason is its awful 7-19-3-4 road record, including a 2-9-1-1 mark since Jan. 1.

However, this game is at home, and the Ducks' success at the Arrowhead Pond lately is the reason why the playoffs are still within reach. They have earned at least one point in 11 straight home games (8-0-1-2).

"Our play has been outstanding at home, but half our games are on the road," Anaheim coach Mike Babcock said after Sunday's 6-3 home victory over Los Angeles. "They won't let you play all 82 at home."

Minnesota also has struggled away from home, winning one of its last 16 road games (1-6-8-1).

Like Giguere, Marian Gaborik has struggled this season after leading his team's surprising playoff run.

A two-time 30-goal scorer who had 17 points in 18 playoff games last year, Gaborik has 11 goals and 23 points in 48 games following a contract holdout that extended into November. However, also like Giguere, Gaborik is coming off his best month of 2003-04, with six goals and four assists in 11 February games.

Gaborik scored his first goal at home since December, and Andrei Zyuzin scored twice Sunday as the Wild skated to a 3-3 tie against Carolina. Minnesota, however, saw its winless streak reach four games (0-3-1).

"We saw a lot of intensity, which we ask of guys - to go out there and play as hard as you can," Wild coach Jacques Lemaire said. "We know when they play as hard as they did (Sunday), we'll be close to getting wins."

STANDINGS: Wild - 61 points, 5th place, 21 PB, Northwest Division. Mighty Ducks - 63 points, 4th place, 18 PB, Pacific Division.

TEAM LEADERS: Wild - Sergei Zholtok, 13 goals; Andrew Brunette, 27 assists and 39 points; Matt Johnson, 151 PIM. Mighty Ducks - Sergei Fedorov, 23 goals, 31 assists and 54 points; Garrett Burnett, 117 PIM.

SPECIAL TEAMS (through March 1): Wild - Power play: 13.5 percent (35 for 260), 27th in NHL. Penalty killing: 84.1 percent (195 for 232), 17th. Mighty Ducks - Power play: 16.6 percent (43 for 259), 12th. Penalty killing: 84.8 percent (240 for 283), 10th.

GOALTENDERS: Wild - Dwayne Roloson (15-16-8, 4 SO, 1.96 GAA); Manny Fernandez (6-11-9, 1, 2.53). Mighty Ducks - Giguere (13-25-5, 2, 2.64); Martin Gerber (10-9-4, 2, 2.28).

SEASON SERIES: Mighty Ducks, 1-0-1.

LAST MEETING: Jan. 23; Mighty Ducks, 6-2. At Anaheim, Vaclav Prospal had three goals and an assist in the Ducks' five-goal third period.

ROAD/HOME RECORDS: Wild - 8-12-10-1 on the road; Mighty Ducks - 16-7-6-4 at home.


Associated Press
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