A disappointing loss to a last-place team saw the Minnesota Wild's lead atop the Northwest Division reduced to just two points. They try to bounce back Thursday night against the Vancouver Canucks.
The Wild (32-21-4) are coming off a 4-2 loss to Edmonton on Tuesday despite outshooting the Oilers 21-4 in the second period and 40-23 overall. The defeat, combined with Calgary's 4-3 win at San Jose, reduced Minnesota's lead in the division to two points.
Now, the Wild look to create some breathing room with the Flames idle Thursday.
Minnesota could use some better goaltending after Niklas Backstrom allowed two goals on 11 shots in two periods before being pulled. Josh Harding didn't fare much better in relief, giving up two goals on 12 shots and taking the loss.
"I could see that (Backstrom) was a little nervous or out of position a little bit," Wild coach Jacques Lemaire said. "That's why at the end of the (second) we decided to give him a chance to recover from it."
|Niklas Backstrom and the Minnesota Wild have recently seen their lead atop the Northwest Division shrink to just two points and they hope to rebound against the Vancouver Canucks tonight. (AP Photo/The Canadian Press, Jonathan Hayward)
Backstrom, who has a 2.43 goals-against average after leading the NHL last season with a 1.97 GAA as a rookie, could be back in net against the Canucks (28-22-7). He has a 1.63 GAA in winning his last three starts against them, including a 38-save performance in the last matchup - a 4-2 victory at Vancouver on Jan. 21.
Harding, on the other hand, has lost his only two games against the Canucks, getting chased in one of them and posting a 5.91 GAA overall.
Minnesota and Vancouver have split four season meetings, and the last eight overall at GM Place.
Brian Rolston, second on the Wild with 23 goals, looks to continue his outstanding play. The left wing has nine goals in 10 games after failing to find the net in the previous nine. He has a goal and two assists in the last three games against the Canucks.
Vancouver is hoping to build on Sunday's 3-2 shootout win over Chicago, and the Canucks are two points behind Colorado for the Western Conference's eighth and final playoff spot.
It was just the second home win for the Canucks in their last seven games - both by shootout.
They hope the possible return of defenseman Willie Mitchell to the lineup can give them a lift after he missed 10 games because of a fractured vertebra.
"I can't guarantee you I'll play Thursday, but that's my intention," Mitchell told the team's official Web site. "I've come this far and I don't want to make it any worse, but I think I'm fully healed, or close to it. Obviously, it's crunch time for us right now and I want to get back.
"As a player you do (feel pressure to get into the lineup)."
Even with Mitchell expected back, Vancouver is still hampered by injuries to three other blueliners - Kevin Bieksa (calf), Aaron Mitchell (foot) and Lukas Krajicek (shoulder).
Those injuries have put more pressure on the Canucks' offense, but they haven't managed to score more than three goals in a game for the last 12 contests (3-6-3).
The Canucks hope Markus Naslund, second on the team with 20 goals, can help them improve on that after he scored against the Blackhawks. The left wing has failed to get a point in the last two games against Minnesota - both losses. However, he keyed wins in the previous two meetings by scoring four goals.