Coming off a convincing win over the reigning Stanley Cup champions, the Minnesota Wild look to create some breathing room atop the Northwest Division on Saturday night when they conclude their season series with the Columbus Blue Jackets.
|Niklas Backstrom has won his last three starts with a 1.67 GAA. (AP Photo/Terry Gilliam)
The Wild (29-19-3), winners of four of their last five road games, lead the Northwest by one point. They maintained that advantage Wednesday as five different players scored, including three in a 1:56 span of the second period in a 5-1 win over Anaheim in their first game after the All-Star break.
"With the second half here, you want to get off to a good start," said Wild goaltender Niklas Backstrom, who made 20 saves. "You look at the standings, you can't have a bad game, bad week. You have to be ready after the break. It's always tough to be five, six days without a game, so it's a big challenge for our team. I think we were ready in the first period and we had a good game."
Backstrom has been stellar of late, winning his last three starts with a 1.67 goals-against average and a .945 save percentage. The stretch has come after he went 2-2-1 with a 3.42 GAA in six starts, getting pulled from one of them.
Wild coach Jacques Lemaire may continue to use the hot Backstrom, who is 2-1-0 with a 2.72 GAA and .902 save percentage in four lifetime starts versus the Blue Jackets.
"He's getting there," Lemaire told the team's official Web site. "The last few games, he's doing more and more things that he did last year. He made some good saves at times. It's good to see him like this."
Backstrom helped Minnesota snap an eight-game losing streak (0-6-2) at Columbus on Dec. 8, stopping 31 shots in a 2-1 victory.
The Wild are 2-7-2 with one tie all-time at Nationwide Arena, but have taken two of three overall meetings this season. They haven't taken a season series from the Blue Jackets since 2001-02.
|The Blue Jackets do a good job of containing Marian Gaborik, holding him to one goal and two assists in nine career games. (AP Photo/Tom Olmscheid)
Part of Minnesota's struggles at Columbus have been due to a lack of scoring from Marian Gaborik, who leads the Wild with 26 goals and 53 points. The All-Star right wing, who scored against the Ducks to give him five goals and nine assists in his last 10 games, has managed only one goal and two assists in nine career games there.
Gaborik has only one assist in his last seven contests at Nationwide since scoring his lone goal there in a win on Jan. 18, 2002.
The Blue Jackets, losers of four of their last six, are looking to avoid dropping a third consecutive game after falling 4-2 at Nashville on Thursday.
The Jackets hope for a better performance from Pascal Leclaire, who was pulled after the second period against the Predators after giving up four goals on 23 shots. The goaltender has lost his two starts since the All-Star break, posting a 4.25 GAA after getting his NHL-leading eighth shutout in a 1-0 win at Chicago on Jan. 24.
One of his shutouts came in a 32-save performance at Minnesota on Nov. 23 - a 4-0 win. Leclaire also made 24 saves in the Dec. 8 loss.