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Wild aim to take season series from Sharks

by Matthew Mankiewich
WILD (35-28-7) at SHARKS (40-23-8)

TV -- FS-N (HD), FS-WI (HD)

Last 10 -- Minnesota 3-6-1, San Jose 6-2-2.

Season series -- With two home wins over the Sharks so far, the Wild are poised to win their first season series since 2005-06. Unfortunately, the last time they beat the Sharks in regulation at HP Pavilion was early in the following season, a 4-1 win on Oct. 21, 2006. The Sharks have gone 7-0-1 at home since.

Big story -- A big comeback victory over the Stars stopped a three-game Sharks slide, got them back on track chasing the top teams in the Western Conference and kept the Kings and Coyotes off the doorstep in the Pacific Division race, both still three points back. The Wild would like to put the brakes on their own three-game losing streak and close back in on the eighth playoff spot in the West, a mere four points away from their 11th-place standing.

Team scope:

Wild -- They're close in the standings, but when a team scores only twice over three games, a four-point gap might as well be Lake Superior.

The good news is that captain Mikko Koivu scored one of those goals and assisted Andrew Brunette on the other in Monday's 4-2 loss at Vancouver. Koivu is back to playing his aggressive style after missing 11 games with a broken finger, and the timing couldn't be better.

"Since the Anaheim trip [last month], we were flat and didn't have the energy level to bring every night that this team must have to be successful," Brunette said in the Minneapolis Star-Tribune. "Mikko has that energy level every night."

"You can't look behind. You've got to look forward. We're still right there," said Koivu, who matches Devin Setoguchi for their respective team leads with three goals against each other.

Sharks -- Tuesday was certainly an example of what the Sharks have become since their February surge. Already winless in their last three games, playing the second of a road back-to-back and down two goals early, they rallied with four goals in the third period and beat the Stars 6-3 in Dallas. Maybe such a response doesn't happen back in December, but there are reasons they're 19-4-3 since Jan. 15.

One of those was reflected in the move coach Todd McLellan made, starting Antti Niemi in goal instead of penciled-in Antero Niittymaki, especially after Niemi had been pulled in the previous night's 6-3 loss in Chicago.

"It was important to us to show him that we believe in him after pulling him in his old arena in front of those fans," McLellan told the San Jose Mercury News. "We also thought it would be a pretty good motivating factor to use him. We didn't think his mates would hang him out to dry again like they did yesterday, and it worked."

Who's hot -- Patrick Marleau got two assists in both Chicago and Dallas, giving him 400 for his career, a milestone reached by Joe Thornton the week before against the Canucks. No other player has dished out as many in a Sharks uniform. Ryane Clowe set a career high with his 23rd goal on Tuesday, eclipsing his previous high of 22 in 2008-09. Joe Pavelski's four assists in Dallas gave him 38 on the year, beating his personal best of 34 in '08-09. Minnesota's Brent Burns leads both teams in head-to-head points with five.

Injury report -- Minnesota winger Guillaume Latendresse (lower body) played two and a half games since missing 58, but returned to Minnesota for an MRI Monday, results of which were not disclosed. Defenseman Cam Barker (upper body) did not make the four-game trip. Sharks defenseman Niclas Wallin left the Dallas game early in the second period when he was hit by the Stars' Jamie Langenbrunner from behind, and did not return. Center Scott Nichol and defenseman Kent Huskins have both been on IR 11 games with upper-body injuries, but both are skating.

Stat pack -- The Sharks have had trouble killing penalties in March, only 19-for-28 in eight games, and the Wild are 0 for their last 10 power-play opportunities, so someone has to benefit. If Niemi is called on to start again, it will be his 27th in a row and second against the Wild this season, having beaten them 4-3 on Jan. 22 to improve to 2-0-0 lifetime with a 1.50 goals-against average. Jose Theodore may get the nod for the Wild, as he has won his last two starts in San Jose, but hasn't faced them since he was with Colorado in 2008. Niklas Backstrom had been in nets for the previous three games, but has gone 1-5-0 with a 3.59 GAA in his last six starts overall.

Puck drop -- "You've got to keep coming to the rink with a good frame of mind. This is when we find out if we're true professionals." -- Wild defenseman John Madden on the team's continued resolve in the Western Conference playoff race

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