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Wild begin road trip at Calgary

by Frank Mentesana
WILD (7-3-3) at FLAMES (6-6-1)


Last 10: Minnesota 6-2-2; Calgary 5-4-1.

Season series: Tuesday's contest is the first of six meetings between the Northwest Division rivals. The Wild took four of six matchups last season, claiming two wins in each team's barn. Only one of the six games went past regulation, when Calgary posted a 3-2 shootout win on Dec. 3 in St. Paul.

Big Story: Fresh off being named the NHL's First Star for the week ending Nov. 6, Wild goaltender Josh Harding will be a spectator Tuesday night at the Scotiabank Saddledome. Coach Mike Yeo has said he doesn't want either goaltender to go too long without playing, so No. 1 goalie Niklas Backstrom will make his first start since he lost to Anaheim on Oct. 27. Harding has played every minute since then, anchoring Minnesota's four-game winning streak and winning four in a row himself for the first time since December 2007. During the streak, the 27-year-old has stopped all but three of the 129 shots he has faced, posting an incredible .977 save percentage with a miniscule 0.75 goals-against average. Factoring in his other outing this season -- a 41-save overtime loss against Detroit -- Harding has a League-leading .965 save percentage and a 1.18 GAA in five games overall.

As outstanding as his numbers have been recently, Harding has had far less success against the Flames than Backstrom, which was probably another factor in Yeo’s decision. Backstrom is 4-0-0 in his last four starts in Calgary, and has a career 1.84 GAA and a .932 save percentage in 28 games against the Flames. Harding is 1-4-1 with a 2.64 GAA and a .911 percentage in six meetings with Calgary.

"He's our go-to guy," Harding said about Backstrom before Saturday's game against St. Louis. "I don't know if everyone hasn't realized it, but he's been having an unbelievable year, too. I think people are kind of forgetting about that."

Team Scope:

Wild: Yeo had said he anticipated starting Backstrom versus the Flames even before Harding's latest stellar outing -- a 30-save effort in the Wild's 2-1 victory over the Blues on Saturday. Dany Heatley and Guillaume Latendresse each scored second-period goals for Minnesota, which moved to fourth in the Western Conference with the win. The Wild are 7-1-2 against the West, and will look to build on that record as they begin a five-game road trip, all against Western foes.

"Even if we get four in a row, we're going on our toughest stretch right now," Latendresse said. "Five games on the road against really tough teams. The toughest part for us is we're going to have to bring that game on the road and try to bring that game every night."

Flames: Coming off a 2-1-0 road trip, the Flames return home for Tuesday's contest before heading back on the road for two games. They have won four of their last six after continuing their dominance of the Avalanche on Sunday, edging the Avs 2-1. Miikka Kiprusoff made 32 saves and Curtis Glencross' third-period, power-play goal was the difference, as Calgary notched its seventh straight win over Colorado, including two this season. Kiprusoff, who made several critical stops (including one on Paul Stastny with 30 seconds left in regulation) was at a loss to explain the Flames' hold over the Avalanche.

"It's no secret, we try to play the same way against every team," said Kiprusoff, who has been in net for all seven wins. "It's a divisional game and big points."

Who's Hot: For Calgary, Kiprusoff has not allowed more than two goals in six of his last seven starts, winning five of them. … Mikko Koivu has points in four of his last five, notching a goal and 4 assists in that span, and Latendresse has scored a goal in each of the last two games.

Injury Report: For the Wild, defensemen Clayton Stoner (finger) hasn’t played in nearly two weeks, but is probable for Tuesday's game, while Greg Zanon (groin) and Mike Lundin (back) are still on IR. In addition, Cal Clutterbuck did not practice on Monday for undisclosed reasons and his status for Tuesday's game is unknown, according to the team web site. … Flames forward David Moss sat out the win over Colorado and is day-to-day after suffering a lower-body injury against the Sabres on Friday. Mikael Backlund remains on IR with a broken finger.

Stat Pack: The Wild have killed 14 straight penalties. They are 7-0-0 when they don't allow a PPG, and 0-3-3 when they do.

Puck Drop: At one point during Minnesota's win over St. Louis, there were 11 players in the penalty box -- six Blues and five Wild -- after a scuffle between Latendresse and David Backes escalated to include most of the players on the ice. For Yeo, this was part of the "Wild way," which decrees that opposing teams" should not have much fun when they come into our building." This game plan consists of physicality, disrupting the opposition and coming back with a strong shift after a bad shift.

"To me I think that that's a great compliment when they go out and try to do the physical stuff," Yeo said after the game. "I like seeing teams do that because to me it's like saying, 'This is the only way we can get it done.' ... That's how we have to look at it, that the way we're playing the game, we feel we're in control."

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