BLUE JACKETS (32-28-10) at WILD (35-29-7)
TV: FS-O (HD), FS-N (HD)
Columbus 1-5-4; Minnesota 3-6-1
Fourth and final meeting of the season. The Blue Jackets have won two of three, including 3-2 on Oct. 16 in the only previous game played in Columbus and 4-3 on a Kyle Wilson shootout goal in the most recent matchup, Dec. 27 in Minnesota. Scottie Upshall, picked up by the Blue Jackets at the trade deadline, had 3 goals and 4 points against the Jackets this season while playing for the Coyotes. Cal Clutterbuck
and Brent Burns each have 3 goals to lead the Wild.
The only way to claim a playoff berth in the Western Conference this season is to play your best hockey down the stretch, and unfortunately for Minnesota and Columbus that hasn't been the case. The Wild enter on a four-game losing streak that came at a most inopportune time, while the Blue Jackets have won just once in their last 10 games.
While Columbus was competitive in Thursday night's game against Central Division rival Detroit, the Blue Jackets trailed for all but 33 seconds of the contest after Drew Miller's early goal. The Red Wings added another first-period tally by Valtteri Filppula and then turned things over to journeyman backup Joey MacDonald. The Jackets tested him with 37 shots, but none of them found their way into the net in a 2-0 defeat.
"We didn't finish," said captain Rick Nash
, who hasn't scored in 11 games. "We had lots of opportunities but again we didn't bear down. It's been tough, the goalies have been playing well, but we've been having chances and letting up a bit."
After getting swept on a four-game road trip, Minnesota returns to the Xcel Energy Center for a four-game homestand that figures to determine if there's any life left in its season. The Wild play six of the next seven at home, but they're now six points out of eighth and need wins now. This is also the start of a three-games-in-four-days stretch that sees the Canadiens visit Sunday and the Maple Leafs come to town on Tuesday.
"Absolutely there's a way to recover. You go out and win games," coach Todd Richards told the Minneapolis Star Tribune following Thursday night's 3-2 loss in San Jose.
Upshall has 4 goals in nine games since coming over to the Blue Jackets. Goalie Steve Mason
is 1-1-1 over his last three starts but has allowed just two goals in each game. … Wild captain Mikko Koivu
had a goal and an assist Monday against the Canucks in his return to the lineup from a broken hand, and added four shots on goal against the Sharks.
Columbus will be without defenseman Anton Stralman (knee) and forwards Kristian Huselius
, Andrew Murray and Chris Clark, all of whom are out with lower-body injuries. … Minnesota defensemen Cam Barker (back) and Marek Zidlicky
(hamstring) and forward Guillaume Latendresse
(lower body) are day-to-day.
The Blue Jackets are the sixth-best faceoff team in the NHL, winning 51.5 percent of their draws. … The Wild are tied with the Kings with a .958 winning percentage in games they lead after two periods, trailing only the Rangers, who remain perfect this season when leading after 40 minutes.
One player who couldn't be blamed for Minnesota's latest defeat was goalie Niklas Backstrom
, who faced 50 shots against San Jose and stopped 47 of them to give his team a chance.
"You are always disappointed after a loss and obviously disappointed when you lose four in a row," Richards said. "We had some guys who really put it on the line tonight. We needed more guys to put it on the line."