WILD (34-30-6) at BLUE JACKETS (28-31-11)
Minnesota 5-3-2; Columbus 4-4-2
Fourth and final meeting of the regular season. The Blue Jackets won their season opener against the Wild on a Rostislav Klesla goal, but Minnesota has since responded with a pair of victories on its home ice. Marek Zidlicky
scored in the final minute of regulation on Dec. 15 and Mikko Koivu
scored a pair of goals to spark a Jan. 23 win.
This will be the second game in as many nights for the Wild. The bad news is their three-game winning streak was snapped Thursday night in Nashville, a 5-0 defeat, and they remained six points behind Detroit for the final Western Conference playoff berth. The good news is they get right back in action and can re-establish a little positive momentum with a victory.
Backup goalie Josh Harding
had been filling in admirably for the injured Niklas Backstrom
, stopping 113 of 119 shots (a .950 save percentage) in winning three straight starts for Minnesota. It wasn't his night on Thursday, though, as Nashville scored three in the first period and chased Harding after 40 minutes in favor of Wade Dubielewicz. The Wild, meanwhile, managed only 17 shots, all of which were stopped by Predators goalie Pekka Rinne.
"We weren't that good today," Harding said. "The great thing about hockey is that we can forget about this one and get ready for tomorrow. I think we all know we need to be better."
This will be the first game in four days for Columbus, which held off several third-period comeback attempts by Edmonton for a 5-3 win on Monday. Antoine Vermette
, who sealed the victory with an empty-net goal, was a trade deadline pick-up from Ottawa last season who helped the Blue Jackets to their first-ever playoff berth. He became used to participating in the Stanley Cup Playoffs during his time with the Senators, but the Jackets are all but mathematically eliminated from contention at this point.
"At the end of the day, you want to win. It's a different situation, I won't lie," he said. "It's a tough situation to be in -- your first time facing that challenge, not being in the playoff. It's not fun."
Andrew Ebbett has scored three goals in his last five games and settled in nicely for the Wild after stints earlier this season with the Ducks and Blackhawks. … Vermette has had a pair of three-point outings for the Blue Jackets in a four-game span. Kristian Huselius
has two goals and four assists in his last two games. Jakub Voracek has goals in consecutive games and five points in his last four.
A groin injury has kept Backstrom out of uniform, while Minnesota is also without defensemen Brent Burns (hip/abdomen), Shane Hnidy (leg) and Clayton Stoner
(sports hernia) and forwards Derek Boogaard (facial lacerations) and Pierre-Marc Bouchard
Columbus captain Rick Nash
has been battling a lower-body injury and flu-like symptoms but could be in the lineup Friday. Defenseman Anton Stralman is day-to-day with an undisclosed illness. Defenseman Jan Hejda (sprained MCL) and Klesla (groin) and forward Derek MacKenzie
(sprained MCL) are all sidelined.
Wild defenseman Greg Zanon
played his 300th NHL game on Thursday against the Predators, the team for which he played his first 230 games. … Vermette and R.J. Umberger
are the only Blue Jackets to have played in all 70 games this season.
Detroit and Calgary are also in action on Friday. The Red Wings not only hold down eighth, they have 13 games remaining. The ninth-place Flames and 11th-place Wild have 12 games left. A win Friday would move Minnesota back into 10th, a point ahead of idle St. Louis, which won on Thursday.