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Wild prepare for last game before Olympic break

by Dan Myers

ST. PAUL, Minn. -- The Minnesota Wild play their final game before the Olympic break Thursday against the Nashville Predators and the focus is squarely on not losing focus. The Predators are playing well of late and trail the Wild by eight points in the Western Conference wild-card standings.

Nashville has one more game before the break, Saturday against the Anaheim Ducks, to gain even more ground should they win Thursday.

"The way I look at it, they're probably approaching this game as their season," Wild coach Mike Yeo said. "So we can't expect anything less than a playoff mentality from them. And that's the challenge that I presented to our players and said the exact same thing.

"They have another game after this. We have guys going to the Olympics, guys going on vacation. Can we be mentally tough enough to push those distractions aside and make sure that we bring the right focus, the right attitude into this game tonight?"

Even more important than avoiding talk of the 2014 Sochi Olympics for some and sun tans for others, Wild forward Zach Parise said Minnesota can put a serious dent in Nashville's recent rally in the standings.

"This is a team that's behind us and when you're ahead of these guys, you want to push them down even more," Parise said. "That should be our main concern."

Goalie Niklas Backstrom did not skate Thursday because of abdominal soreness, an issue that has plagued him virtually all season. Minnesota called up Johan Gustafsson from the Iowa Wild of the American Hockey League to serve as the backup to Darcy Kuemper, who was expected to get the start anyway.

Predators forward Matt Cullen, who has missed the past four games with an upper-body injury, will return to the lineup against his former team.

Here are the projected lineups:


Gabriel Bourque - David Legwand - Craig Smith

Patric Hornqvist - Mike Fisher - Eric Nystrom

Simon Moser - Colin Wilson - Taylor Beck

Rich Clune - Matt Cullen - Paul Gaustad

Roman Josi - Shea Weber

Michael Del Zotto - Seth Jones

Mattias Ekholm - Ryan Ellis

Carter Hutton

Devan Dubnyk

Scratched: Victor Bartley

Injured: Pekka Rinne (hip infection), Nick Spaling (lower body), Viktor Stalberg (upper body)


Zach Parise - Mikael Granlund - Jason Pominville

Jason Zucker - Charlie Coyle - Dany Heatley

Matt Cooke - Kyle Brodziak - Nino Niederreiter

Torrey Mitchell - Erik Haula - Justin Fontaine

Ryan Suter - Jared Spurgeon

Jonas Brodin - Nate Prosser

Keith Ballard - Clayton Stoner

Darcy Kuemper

Johan Gustafsson

Scratched: Mike Rupp

Injured: Mikko Koivu (fractured ankle), Marco Scandella (sprained knee), Josh Harding (illness), Niklas Backstrom (abdominal)

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