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Struggling Wild head to Washington

by Tal Pinchevsky
WILD (31-33-10) at CAPITALS (37-30-8)


Last 10: Minnesota 3-7-0; Washington 5-2-3.

Season Series: This is the only meeting of the season between the Wild and the Capitals. Their most recent matchup was staged in Minnesota almost 17 months ago, a 2-1 Wild win in which Niklas Backstrom made 21 stops and Mikko Koivu scored the game-winning goal.

Big Story: While Minnesota is on the cusp of being eliminated from the postseason for the fourth straight season, Washington is in a spirited dogfight to earn one of the Eastern Conference's last playoff spots. After starting March with seven losses in eight games, the Wild have done a better job playing spoiler this week with consecutive wins over division rivals Calgary and Vancouver. Washington, meanwhile, has lost four of their last five but have still managed to gain enough points to keep pace with the playoff pack in the East.

Team Scope:

Wild: Looking to play spoiler in the West, Minnesota topped Vancouver 2-0 on Monday before earning a 3-2 shootout win Thursday against Calgary to wrap up a 2-3-0 homestand. Minnesota then opened a modest two-game road swing Saturday night in Buffalo with an opportunity to help out the Caps by defeating a team also vying for a playoff spot in the East.

Against the Sabres, Steven Kampfer gave the Wild a first-period lead, but Buffalo would outshoot Minnesota 26-9 in the final two periods on their way to three unanswered goals and a 3-1 victory. The loss snapped the Wild’s two-game win streak and gave them an 11-26-7 record since they boasted the League’s best record on Dec. 10.

Capitals: A four-game win streak earlier this month gave the appearance that the Capitals were well on their way towards clinching a playoff berth. But losses in three of their next four, including a humbling 5-2 defeat in Chicago on March 18, showed that Washington's path toward the postseason wouldn't be so easy.

Opening a three-game homestand Friday against the Jets, Washington had an opportunity to put some space between themselves and another team competing for one of the East's last remaining playoff spots. Hosting Winnipeg, the Capitals jumped out to a seemingly insurmountable 3-0 lead thanks to an opening marker from Jason Chimera and two second-period tallies from Alex Ovechkin. But Ben Maxwell's first goal of the season just 1:14 after Ovechkin's second goal gave the Jets new life. Bryan Little's goal just 71 seconds later halved the Capitals lead before Spencer Machacek's first career goal tied the game in the third period.

After being outshot 17-2 by Winnipeg in the third period, Washington wasn't able to sustain any real pressure in overtime. On just his team's second shot of the extra period, Tim Stapleton scored the winner, allowing Winnipeg to gain a crucial point on the Caps.

Who's Hot: For the Wild, Kyle Brodziak has seven points in his current four-game point streak. … Ovechkin has been blazing hot for the Caps, scoring eight goals in his last six games. After being a healthy scratch for parts of the season, Mike Knuble has four points in his last four games while Chimera has four points in his last three games.

Injury Report: Guillaume Latendresse (post-concussion symptoms), Pierre-Marc Bouchard (concussion/groin), Jarod Palmer (upper body), and Mike Lundin (sports hernia surgery) are on Minnesota’s IR while Justin Falk, Niklas Backstrom, Jared Spurgeon, and Matt Kassian are all questionable for Sunday. … Washington has Tom Poti (groin) and Nicklas Backstrom (concussion) on IR while Tomas Vokoun (groin) and Joel Ward (lower body) are questionable.

Stat Pack: With 151 goals on the season, the Wild are the lowest-scoring team in the League. But goals are especially hard to come by on the road for Minnesota, who have 67 goals on the road this season. That number is easily the lowest in the NHL, nine goals behind 29th-ranked Anaheim.

Puck Drop: With seven games remaining in the regular season, Ovechkin is unlikely to surpass the 85 points he collected last season to lead the Capitals. With 59 points so far this season, anything below 85 would mark the lowest season point total in the Washington captain's career. His 35 goals, however, have already surpassed his disappointing 32-goal season last year.

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