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Wild up against familiar face in Flames' Backstrom

Minnesota gets Pominville back, looks to maintain lead for second wild card

by Dan Myers / Correspondent

FLAMES (31-36-6) at WILD (35-28-11)

TV: 8 p.m. ET; SNW, FS-N, NHL.TV

ST. PAUL, Minn. -- The Minnesota Wild will face a familiar face Thursday at Xcel Energy Center as they try to maintain their hold on the second wild card into the Stanley Cup Playoffs from the Western Conference.

Niklas Backstrom will start in goal for the visiting Calgary Flames. Backstrom was traded from the Wild on Feb. 29 along with a sixth-round pick in the 2016 NHL Draft for forward David Jones.

The Wild enter Thursday one point ahead of the Colorado Avalanche, who have a game in hand. The Avalanche host the Philadelphia Flyers on Thursday.

Backstrom spent parts of 10 seasons with Minnesota and is the Wild's all-time leader among goaltenders in games (409), wins (194) and shutouts (28). He allowed six goals on 35 shots against the Pittsburgh Penguins on Jan. 13, 2015, his final start for the Wild. The team traded for Devan Dubnyk the next day, relegating Backstrom to third-string duties for most of the remainder of his time in Minnesota.

Seeing his first game action in 14 months, Backstrom made 21 saves in a 4-1 win against the Montreal Canadiens on Sunday.

"It's still one day at a time. It's still a lot of learning, and a lot of work to do, and I'm trying to catch up on a lot of hockey," Backstrom said. "You're focused on that, but for sure it's nice to get that one game. It's easier to see in the game where you are and what you have to work on to improve and get better and try to take the next step."

Backstrom, 38, is scheduled to be an unrestricted free agent on July 1 and was hopeful a trade could allow him the opportunity to showcase his skills in an effort to continue his career beyond this season.  

"It's a fresh start for me, so it helps mentally and physically," Backstrom said. "To come into here in the locker room and see all the kids, it makes you younger. Every time you're in a hockey locker room you're a kid, and I'm still trying to enjoy it one day at a time and try to stay young."

Jones has become a favorite of Wild coach John Torchetti for his ability to move up and down the lineup. Minnesota has experienced a number of injuries to its forward group over the past three weeks and Jones has seen time on the second, third and fourth lines.

"He's done a good job using his size, good puck possession guy on the offensive-zone cycles, good on the walls, good on the bench too. Another guy who has been stepping up on the bench and saying the right things and it just leaks to everybody else on the bench," Torchetti said. "He has good leadership qualities and he takes direction very well. He's low maintenance, which I really like. It's big when you give a player an assignment during a game and then you see him play it out during the game. He's been pretty steady for us."

Backstrom is playing against a former team for the first time, but Jones has been through this before; he spent six seasons with the Avalanche before being traded to the Flames in July of 2013.

"Definitely a lot of familiar faces over there, so I think once we get out there, it's gonna be exciting, it's gonna be different going against them," Jones said. "It's always weird, guys you've been playing with a long time. But … at the end of the day, it's just a hockey game."

Wild forward Jason Pominville is expected to return to the lineup after missing seven games with a lower-body injury. Pominville practiced fully for the first time on Wednesday and was among the first few players off after the morning skate.

Here are the projected lineups:

Johnny Gaudreau - Sean Monahan - Josh Jooris
Lance Bouma - Mikael Backlund - Michael Frolik
Michael Ferland - Sam Bennett - Joe Colborne
Brandon Bollig - Matt Stajan - Garnet Hathaway

Freddie Hamilton - Mark Giordano
TJ Brodie - Dougie Hamilton
Jyrki Jokipakka - Jakub Nakladal

Niklas Backstrom
Jonas Hiller

Injured: Karri Ramo (torn ACL), Ladislav Smid (upper body), Dennis Wideman (triceps)
Scratched: Deryk Engelland, Joni Ortio

Zach Parise - Mikko Koivu - Charlie Coyle
Nino Niederreiter - Erik Haula - Jason Pominville
Thomas Vanek - Mikael Granlund - David Jones
Jordan Schroeder - Jarret Stoll - Justin Fontaine

Ryan Suter - Jared Spurgeon
Marco Scandella - Jonas Brodin
Mike Reilly - Matt Dumba

Devan Dubnyk
Darcy Kuemper

Injured: Ryan Carter (upper body)
Scratched: Chris Porter, Nate Prosser, Jason Zucker

Status report: Zucker is a healthy scratch for the third time in the past seven games and fourth time this season. Vanek is in the lineup after being scratched in each of the past three games.

Who's hot: Monahan has five goals and four assists over his past seven games. … Haula has one point in six-straight games.

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