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Wild return home to host Penguins

by Dan Myers

PENGUINS (49-23-5) at WILD (39-26-12)


Last 10: Pittsburgh 5-4-1; Minnesota 4-4-2

Season series: Chris Kunitz scored two goals to lead the Pittsburgh Penguins to a 5-2 win against the Minnesota Wild at Consol Energy Center on Dec. 19 in their first game this season.

Big story: The Wild return home after a 2-1-1 road trip, maintaining their lead for the top wild-card spot in the Western Conference's Stanley Cup Playoff race. Pittsburgh officially clinched the Metropolitan Division on Thursday night when the Philadelphia Flyers lost, then completed a 4-2 road win against the Winnipeg Jets.

Team Scope:

Penguins: Pittsburgh won the first-ever Metropolitan Division championship and its second straight division title overall, but the Penguins are locked into the No. 2 seed in the Eastern Conference. The Boston Bruins locked up the top seed by beating the Philadelphia Flyers 5-2 on Saturday.

Regardless, the division title is an accomplishment for a franchise that has been ravaged by injury virtually all season. The Penguins have lost 479 man-games (and counting) this season, 93 more than any other team.

"It's good," captain Sidney Crosby said of the division championship. "We've gone through a lot this year injury-wise and it hasn't been easy. Something like that you don't think about it too much, but it's nice to clinch that."

Rookie Jeff Zatkoff will start in goal.

Wild: Minnesota's four-game road trip got off to a rocky start. After a 5-1 loss to the St. Louis Blues on March 27, the Wild went to bed that night one point ahead of the Phoenix Coyotes for the top wild-card spot and six points ahead of the ninth-place Dallas Stars, who had two games in hand. But the Wild won their next two games, beating Phoenix and the Los Angeles Kings, and rallied late to get a point against the Chicago Blackhawks on Thursday. Minnesota's lead over the Stars, who hold the second wild-card position, and the Coyotes is five points.

The Wild's remaining schedule isn't easy, but four of their final five games will be at Xcel Energy Center, including their last three.

"Usually when you go off on a long road trip, you want to get off to a good start," coach Mike Yeo said. "Looking at this road trip, obviously that St. Louis game, nobody can feel good about that, but getting five out of our next six points, against tough teams, I think that's something we have to feel good about."

Who's hot: Kunitz had his four-game point streak snapped Thursday but had three goals and two assists during the streak. With 35 goals this season, Kunitz is one behind Crosby for the team lead. … Wild forward Charlie Coyle scored a goal Thursday against Chicago and has points in six of his past seven games, scoring three goals and four assists over that span.

Injury report: Pittsburgh will be without forwards Jussi Jokinen (upper body), Chris Conner (broken foot), Pascal Dupuis (knee), Marcel Goc (foot), Evgeni Malkin (foot) and Joe Vitale (upper body), defenseman Kris Letang (stroke) and goaltender Tomas Vokoun (pelvis). … The Wild have their own injury problems: Forwards Mikael Granlund (upper body) and Jason Zucker (quad), defenseman Clayton Stoner (lower body) and goaltenders Darcy Kuemper (upper body), Josh Harding (illness) and Niklas Backstrom (abdominal) are out. Forward Nino Niederreiter (upper body) and defenseman Keith Ballard (groin) are expected to be available. Niederreiter did not play Thursday at Chicago and Ballard has missed the past nine games.

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