Of the five Northwest Division teams, the Minnesota Wild
have had the most success against teams within the Western Conference. That trend must continue this week, when the Wild meet four conference opponents in six days, beginning Monday night against the Colorado Avalanche
at the Xcel Energy Center.
Minnesota owns the fourth-highest win total against Western Conference foes, trailing Detroit (40), San Jose (37) and Dallas (36), at 34-22-6.
Minnesota winger Aaron Voros
realizes the importance of every game from this point forward.
-- It's funny, the games become more important now when teams are in front of you," Voros told NHL.com. -- I mean, it would be nice to have back those games we lost two or three months ago in order to get four or six points now. The next week or so will make or break our season. If you get on a little bit of a tear, you could jump all the way up and get that home ice in the early rounds. We've kind of been in third place all season. We realize you could easily drop a few games and suddenly find yourself fighting to make the playoffs. This is where you earn what you get, so everybody has to show up and work together."
Not surprisingly, the Wild, currently seeded third in the Western Conference with 10 games remaining, rank fourth in the League with an 84.8 penalty-killing percentage. That doesn't bode well for Colorado's 29th-rated power play (13.9 percent).
Tonight's critical matchup with the Avalanche headlines this week's NHL Six Pack
. In fact, all six games on the docket this week are divisional confrontations sure to be crowd-pleasers. So kick back and allow me to explain.
Colorado Avalanche at Minnesota Wild (Monday, 7 p.m. ET, Versus, TSN, RIS)
– The matchup will be the first of two meetings this month, with the follow-up coming March 30 in Minnesota. The Wild hold a 3-2 lead in the season series, including a 3-2 decision in the most recent game, Jan. 24, when goalie Niklas Backstrom
stopped 28 shots. Minnesota center Pavol Demitra
leads the Wild in career scoring against the Avalanche with 40 points (14 goals), including a goal and three assists in two games this season. Colorado, seventh in the Western Conference and tied with Minnesota for the Northwest Division lead, has been led by winger Milan Hejduk
against its division foe. Hejduk has 33 points (14 goals) all-time against the Wild, but has just one goal this season.
New York Rangers at New Jersey Devils (Wednesday, 7 p.m. ET)
– The Rangers, and in particular Henrik Lundqvist
(32-23-7, 2.31 goals-against average), certainly have gotten the best of the Devils to the tune of five straight victories this season. The Rangers have outscored the Devils, 11-4, and Lundqvist, who has been in goal for every game, has a 0.80 GAA, .968 save percentage and two shutouts against the Devils. Lundqvist made 33 stops in the most recent win, 3-1, on Feb. 1 in Newark. The Rangers, sixth in the Eastern Conference, seven points behind the top-seeded Devils, are 7-2-1 over their last 10 games. The Devils, 6-3-1 in their last 10, were spurred by goalie Martin Brodeur
last week. The defending Vezina Trophy winner won two games en route to his NHL-record seventh 40-win season. Brodeur broke the League mark last season by earning 48 victories, and now is 18 shy of topping Patrick Roy
's career record of 551 wins.
Montreal Canadiens at Boston Bruins (Thursday, 7 p.m. ET, TSN, RDS)
– The Bruins-Canadiens rivalry is one of the oldest in NHL history. Montreal has dominated the series recently, winning all six games this season and nine straight overall. The Canadiens, bolstered by the play of rookie goalie Carey Price
(17-12-3, 2.69 GAA), are 7-3 in their last 10 and currently sit second in the Eastern Conference. Price has won five of his last eight starts, including a memorable 38-save, 4-0 shutout of the Devils on March 11. Price's backup, Jaroslav Halak
, earned his third NHL shutout in his first home start of the season Saturday with a 30-save, 3-0 decision against the New York Islanders
. Halak, incidentally, went 7-0 with two shutouts at the Bell Centre in Montreal as a rookie last season. The Bruins, seventh in the East, scored a 3-2 overtime decision over the eighth-seeded Flyers Saturday. Boston center Marc Savard
has 63 assists this season and is 11 shy of matching his career-high of 74, established last season.
Anaheim Ducks at San Jose Sharks (Friday, 10:30 p.m. ET)
– The Sharks are over .500 against teams in the Pacific Division, but 1-2-3 against the Ducks and veteran goalie Jean-Sebastien Giguere
, who has won seven of his last eight starts against San Jose and is 5-1 with a 2.33 GAA against the Sharks this season.
The teams have been jostling for position within the Pacific all season – just three points separate first-place San Jose and second-place Anaheim. The Sharks, 9-0-1 in their last 10, are the second seed in the Western Conference and the Ducks, 7-2-1 over their last 10, are fourth in the Conference. The big news out of Anaheim last week was the eight-game suspension given to defenseman Chris Pronger
for reckless play against Vancouver's Ryan Kesler
on March 12. Sharks center Joe Thornton
has nine points and seven assists over his last seven games and defenseman Brian Campbell
, whom San Jose acquired on Feb. 26, has eight assists in his last eight games.
Toronto Maple Leafs at Ottawa Senators (Saturday, 7 p.m. ET, CBC)
– The Battle of Ontario currently is even at three games apiece, with the Maple Leafs scoring a 5-0 victory in the most recent meeting, Feb. 25, when Vesa Toskala
turned aside 31 shots to notch his 11th career shutout. The Leafs, in fact, have won three straight from their provincial rival with Toskala notching a pair of goose eggs. Ottawa, seeded fifth in the East, is 4-5-1 over its last 10 and 21-12-3 at Scotiabank Place. Toronto's playoff hopes took a big hit following a 6-2 loss to Buffalo on Saturday, and opened the week six points behind eighth-seeded Philadelphia with nine games remaining. Ottawa coach Bryan Murray has started goalie Martin Gerber
the last nine games (4-4-1). Senators center Jason Spezza
appears to be heating up at an opportune time, notching five goals and three assists in the last six games. Meanwhile, Sens winger Dany Heatley
has five goals and two assists over his last six outings.
St. Louis Blues at Chicago Blackhawks (Sunday, 3 p.m. ET)
– The rivals have competed in the same division (Western 1970-74, Smythe 1974-81, Norris 1981-93 and Central 1993-present) since 1970. The teams have split six games this season, with the Blues scoring a 5-1 win in the most recent meeting, Feb. 19 in St. Louis. Chicago's Patrick Sharp
is having an unbelievable season, registering career-highs in goals (34), assists (21), points (55), power-play goals (eight), shorthanded goals (seven) and game-winning goals (seven). He has three shorthanded points (two goals) in six games against St. Louis this season. Chicago rookies and Calder Trophy candidates Patrick Kane
(62 points) and Jonathan Toews
(47 points) also have been impressive in an otherwise disappointing season for 13th seeded Chicago. The Blues have dropped nine of their last 10 games and fallen to 14th in the Western Conference, 13 points behind eighth-seeded Vancouver with 10 games remaining. The clubs might not be jockeying for playoff position, but rest assured, players and fans from both sides will be emotionally charged from the opening faceoff.
Historical hit of the week
– Despite suffering a 4-3 loss to the Chicago Blackhawks
on March 22, 1964, Boston Bruins
goalie Eddie Johnston
became the final goaltender in NHL history to play every minute of every game in an entire regular season. Johnston finished the season 18-40-12 with a 3.01 goals-against average.
Contact Mike Morreale at email@example.com.