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Wild attempt to cool off red-hot Kings

by Dan Myers

WILD (38-26-11) at KINGS (44-25-6)


Last 10: Minnesota 4-4-2; Los Angeles 7-3-0

Season Series: Each team has won via the shootout at the other's home rink this season. Minnesota Wild goaltender Darcy Kuemper stopped 39 shots through regulation and overtime and all four shots in the shootout in a 2-1 win in the most-recent game against the Los Angeles Kings on Jan. 7. The victory was Kuemper's first of the season.

Big Story: The Kings will look to extend their season-long winning streak to seven games Monday. Despite its recent success, Los Angeles is likely locked into third place in the Pacific Division; they trail the San Jose Sharks by nine points for second in the division and lead the fourth-place Phoenix Coyotes by 10 points. Minnesota holds the top wild-card spot in the Western Conference's Stanley Cup Playoff race by three points over the Coyotes and four points over the Dallas Stars.

Team Scope:

Wild: Minnesota captured arguably its biggest win of the season Saturday against the Coyotes. After losing two in a row heading into the game, the Wild's wild-card lead over the Coyotes had dwindled to a single point. The regulation victory gave Minnesota a bit of breathing room, at least for the time being. Perhaps more importantly, the win may have calmed nerves in the dressing room. A victory against the Kings would salvage a winning month for Minnesota, which enters the game 5-5-4 since March 1.

"We need to use this as a game we can springboard something off of," Wild coach Mike Yeo said Saturday. "We've had enough games where there has been some bad feelings after, so let's use this as hopefully something we can build off of."

Kings: Despite little upward or downward mobility in the standings, the Kings are entering the final two weeks of the regular season playing their best hockey. Los Angeles has six straight wins and has won 14 of its past 17. After a 3-0 road trip against Eastern Conference teams last week, the Kings returned to Staples Center on Saturday to begin their final homestand of the regular season and earned a 4-2 win against the Winnipeg Jets. Despite their place in the standings being virtually resolved, the Kings will play a small part this week in helping to decide wild-card seeding, hosting the Wild on Monday and the Coyotes on Wednesday.

"The story to the games leading up to the playoffs has been important to all the teams … somebody's trying to get ready, somebody's trying to just fight for the playoff position," forward Anze Kopitar said. "It's a good intensity out there. It's a pretty good indication what playoff hockey is going to be all about. We certainly have to get ready ourselves."

Who's hot: Wild forward Mikko Koivu has nine points over his past seven games and carries a five-game point streak into the game, scoring one goal and assisting on six others over that stretch. Koivu leads the team with 38 assists this season despite missing 17 games with a fractured ankle. … Kings forward Marian Gaborik has points in three straight games and has eight points in 12 games since coming over to the Kings in a deadline-day trade from the Columbus Blue Jackets. The first-ever draft pick for the Wild (selected third in 2000), Gaborik has nine goals 22 points in 34 games between the Kings and Blue Jackets this season.

Injury report: Wild forward Jason Zucker (quad), defensemen Clayton Stoner (knee) and Keith Ballard (groin) and goaltenders Josh Harding (illness) and Niklas Backstrom (abdominal) are out, although Ballard practiced Sunday and is expected back this week.

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