Predators aim to get closer to Wild in playoff raceby Dan Myers
PREDATORS (25-23-9) at WILD (30-21-7)
TV: FS-TN, FS-N
Last 10: Nashville 6-2-2; Minnesota 5-3-2
Season series: This is the fourth of five games this season. The Minnesota Wild are 2-1-0 and have won the past two meetings. Wild goaltender Darcy Kuemper made 23 saves in earning his first NHL shutout in a 4-0 win against the Nashville Predators on Jan. 12.
Big story: In their final game before the Olympic break, the Wild will look to win the season series against the Predators and, at the same time, put more distance between them and the Vancouver Canucks in the wild-card standings in the Western Conference. The Wild (67 points) lead the Canucks by four points for the first wild-card spot.
Predators: Nashville is in last place in the Central Division, but a win against the Wild on Thursday would pull the Predators to within six points of Minnesota. While the Wild are done for three weeks following the game, Nashville will have one more chance to gain even more ground on the Wild when it returns home to play the Anaheim Ducks on Saturday.
Every team in the Central is above .500, and Nashville's 59 points are seven better than any other last-place team in the League. The Predators have won four of their past seven games but have taken at least a point in six of them, keeping them on the fringe of the Stanley Cup Playoff picture.
"We're fighting for our lives here," Mike Fisher said following a 4-3 overtime loss to the St. Louis Blues on Tuesday. "Two [points] would have been awesome but against a good team like this, sometimes that's the way it goes and we'll take one."
Wild: Injuries have been a major storyline for the Wild during the past six weeks, as the team has seen big-minute guys like Zach Parise, Mikko Koivu, Jared Spurgeon and Josh Harding all miss significant time. Slowly, the pieces have started coming back, beginning with Parise two weeks ago, and Spurgeon on Tuesday night, but Minnesota was dealt another blow on the first shift of the game Tuesday when defenseman Marco Scandella injured his right knee against the Tampa Bay Lightning.
Scandella has developed into the quality young defenseman the Wild thought he would this season, scoring three goals and 13 assists in 55 games. He's also a team-best plus-10. Scandella's injury looked initially like it could have been a season-ender, but the team got good news Wednesday when tests revealed it was only a sprain. With the Olympic break on the horizon, it's possible the game Thursday against Nashville could be the only one he misses.
"Marco has been a great player for us, so you know it's going to be a challenge with him out of the lineup," coach Mike Yeo said. "With the break coming up, obviously that will give him some extra time to get ready coming out of it."
Who's hot: Since acquiring goaltender Devan Dubnyk from the Edmonton Oilers Jan. 15, it's been Carter Hutton that's seen an increase in his playing time. Dubnyk has two starts with Nashville while Hutton has seven over that span, losing only once in regulation. Since a win Jan. 14 against the Calgary Flames, Hutton is 6-1-1 and allowed more than three goals in a game once and two or fewer goals five times. … Minnesota forward Dany Heatley is riding a season-long three-game scoring streak, accounting for two goals and two assists during that time. Heatley also has goals in consecutive games for the third time this season.
Injury report: Predators goaltender Pekka Rinne (hip infection) and forwards Viktor Stalberg (upper body) and Nick Spaling (lower body) are out. Forward Matt Cullen (upper body) could return after missing the past four games. … Wild center Mikko Koivu (fractured ankle), defenseman Scandella (sprained knee), and goaltenders Josh Harding (illness) and Niklas Backstrom (abdominal) will not play. Darcy Kuemper starts in goal and Johan Gustafsson will back up.