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Wild hope to creep closer with game against Oilers

by Brian Hunter

WILD (31-27-4) at OILERS (19-38-6)

Last 10: Minnesota 6-4-0; Edmonton 3-7-0

Season series: Fourth and final meeting of the regular season. The home team has held serve thus far, with Martin Havlat scoring a pair of goals in the most recent matchup, a 4-2 win for the Wild at Xcel Energy Center on Feb. 4.

Big story:
Edmonton gave up its postseason hopes long ago, but time hasn't run out on Minnesota just yet. The Wild emerged from the Olympic break by blanking the Flames 4-0 in Calgary and will attempt to sweep their brief Alberta road trip Friday night. They sit 13th in the Western Conference, but just four points out of eighth.

Team Scope:

Wild: Niklas Backstrom mostly sat and watched during his time in Vancouver as a member of the Finland team that earned bronze. He did shut out Germany in his only start of the tournament, and on Wednesday he got the last laugh in a showdown with countryman Miikka Kiprusoff of the Flames, the go-to guy for the Finns at the Olympics. Mikko Koivu and Andrew Brunette each had a goal and an assist in support of Backstrom, who finished with 29 saves.

"You never know what to expect when you come out from a break," Backstrom said. "We got off to a good start and played a really solid team game tonight."

Oilers: The final 20 games of the season for Edmonton, starting with Wednesday's 5-2 loss to Chicago, are primarily about building for the future. The Oilers made some moves prior to the trade deadline, which included claiming forward Ryan Jones off waivers from Nashville and acquiring fellow blueliner Aaron Johnson from Calgary. Jones made his debut with the team against the Blackhawks and Johnson should join him in the lineup Friday.

"I think this is a good opportunity for me," Johnson said. "I have about 19, 20 games to try to prove myself and earn myself a job on this team and go out and take advantage of it."

Who's hot:
Brunette has scored in three straight games for the Wild, with five points during that span. Koivu has a goal and six assists during a four-game points streak. … Shawn Horcoff has a goal and four assists during a three-game points streak for the Oilers.

Injury report:
Minnesota defenseman Clayton Stoner is on injured reserve following hernia surgery. Forward Pierre-Marc Bouchard has played in just one game this season due to recurring headaches following a concussion.

Edmonton defenseman Ladislav Smid is day-to-day with a bulging disc in his neck. Goalie Nikolai Khabibulin (back), defenseman Sheldon Souray (hand) and forwards Ales Hemsky (shoulder), Ryan Stone (knee) and Jean-Francois Jacques (back) are all on injured reserve.

Stat pack: Backstrom has been money against the Oilers during his career, posting a 14-1-0 record with a 1.64 goals-against average in 17 career starts. … Tom Gilbert, who has become the stalwart on Edmonton's blue line following several recent trades, had 26:32 of ice time in Wednesday's loss to Chicago.

Puck drop:
The Wild have a handful of teams they must climb over in order to make the playoffs. These are two points they can ill afford to pass up.

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