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Wild need two points against road-weary Oilers

by Brian Hunter
OILERS (21-41-7) at WILD (33-29-6)

Last 10: Edmonton 3-6-1; Minnesota 4-4-2

Season series:
Fifth of six meetings this season between these Northwest Division rivals. They've split the first four matchups, all won by the home team. Most recently, Edmonton claimed a 2-1 win on March 5 when Mike Comrie scored in the sixth round of the shootout. Comrie and Guillaume Latendresse scored the regulation goals in that game and lead their respective teams in the series with three apiece.

Big story:
Minnesota starts Tuesday in 11th place in the Western Conference, eight points out of the eighth and final playoff spot. The Wild are still smarting from the point they let slip away the last time they played the Oilers and will look to extend Edmonton's woes away from home (1-14-1 since mid-December).

Team Scope:

This is the finale of a four-game trip for Edmonton, which won five straight on the road to start the month of December and went until a 3-2 shootout win in Los Angeles on Feb. 11 before tasting victory again while away from Rexall Place. The Oilers made the Blue Jackets sweat it out Monday, cutting a pair of two-goal, third-period deficits in half, but ultimately fell by a 5-3 final.

"Obviously, we like to play a little wide open with pinching in the offensive zone," said defenseman Aaron Johnson, one of the Edmonton goal scorers. "But there were a couple of times we just got caught out of position."

An 0-2-2 run earlier this month threatened to drop Minnesota permanently out of playoff contention, but the Wild have bounced back with a huge 3-2 win at Buffalo and a 4-2 victory over St. Louis on Sunday at the Xcel Energy Center. This is the finale of a brief two-game homestand before they hit the road for back-to-back games in Nashville on Thursday and Columbus on Friday.

"It was good overall," captain Mikko Koivu told the Minneapolis Star Tribune. "Now we just have to carry that with us."

Who's hot: Dustin Penner has two goals and three assists during a three-game points streak for the Oilers. Andrew Cogliano has two goals and two assists during a three-game points streak. Johnson has goals in consecutive games after scoring just once in his first 26 contests.

With Niklas Backstrom ailing, Wild backup Josh Harding has won consecutive starts, stopping 79 of 83 shots for a .952 save percentage. Latendresse has goals in two straight games and five in his last six. Andrew Brunette also has goals in consecutive games. Antti Miettinen has a goal, two assists and a plus-3 rating in his last two games.

Injury report:
Forwards Patrick O'Sullivan (hand) and Fernando Pisani (groin) were missing from the Edmonton lineup on Monday. Goalie Nikolai Khabibulin (back), defensemen Sheldon Souray (hand) and Ladislav Smid (neck) and forwards Ales Hemsky (shoulder), Ryan Stone (knee), Jean-Francois Jacques (back) and Ryan Jones (torn MCL) are all on injured reserve and likely out for the season.

Minnesota is also struggling with injuries coming down the stretch. Backstrom (groin) and defensemen Brent Burns (hip) and Shane Hnidy (leg) are not expected to play on Tuesday. Forwards Owen Nolan (lower body) and Derek Boogaard (facial lacerations) are questionable. Defenseman Clayton Stoner (sports hernia) and forward Pierre-Marc Bouchard (concussion) are on injured reserve.

Stat pack:
Four different goaltenders have won a game in the season series: Khabibulin and Jeff Deslauriers for the Oilers; Backstrom and Anton Khudobin for the Wild. Khudobin stopped all nine shots he faced after Harding was injured in a 4-2 Minnesota win on Feb. 4.

Puck drop:
Koivu and the Wild feel they are still in good hands even if Harding must continue to sub for Backstrom.

"We know we have two solid goaltenders, and we know we can rely on them each and every night," Koivu said following Sunday's victory. "We're trying to make it a little bit easier on them. I think the defense did a very good job."

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