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Wild seek offense against struggling Panthers

by Brian Hunter /

WILD (3-3-2) at PANTHERS (2-6-0)


Season series: This is the first of two meetings between the Minnesota Wild and Florida Panthers. In their most recent matchup, on March 29, 2012, Mikko Koivu scored 15 seconds into overtime to give the Wild a 3-2 win at Xcel Energy Center.

Big story: The Wild hope their offense comes alive as they finish up a four-game road trip. They've lost two of three and scored all of four goals in the process. The Panthers are looking to bounce back after dropping the opener of a six-game homestand.

Team Scope:

Wild: In four road games this season Minnesota has generated six goals, which helps account for its 1-3-0 mark away from Xcel. On Saturday the Wild will face a Panthers team that has given up an average of 3.88 goals per game, third-worst in the NHL. It's possible Niklas Backstrom could play for the first time since Oct. 8, when he suffered a knee strain in the first period of a game against the Nashville Predators.

Backstrom backed up Josh Harding against the Tampa Bay Lightning on Thursday, a game Koivu tied with his first goal of the season at 11:05 of the third. Steven Stamkos put the Lightning in front to stay less than four minutes later as they handed the Wild a 3-1 defeat.

"We have to find a way to generate a little more," forward Jason Pominville said. "You can't win many games when you score one goal."

Panthers: Training-camp addition Tim Thomas is healthy again and provided a great storyline Thursday when he returned from a groin injury to start for Florida against the team he spent his entire NHL career with prior to this season, the Boston Bruins.

Thomas gave up a pair of early goals, but the Panthers rallied on scores by Kris Versteeg and Jesse Winchester. Overtime appeared to be looming, but Thomas was beaten by Reilly Smith on a backhander with 58.7 seconds remaining. The 3-2 loss was the Panthers' sixth in seven games after an opening-night win.

"It hurts the way it ended up," Thomas said. "I really wanted to guys in front of me to be rewarded after coming back in the third period after the way we started out."

Who's hot: Harding has been tremendous in Backstrom's absence, posting a League-best 1.15 goals-against average and a .946 save percentage for the Wild. … Jonathan Huberdeau has three goals and one assist in his past five games for the Panthers.

Injury report: Minnesota has defenseman Keith Ballard (upper body) and forwards Mike Rupp (knee) and Charlie Coyle (knee) sidelined. … Florida is without defenseman Ed Jovanovski (hip) and forwards Sean Bergenheim (groin) and Steven Pinizzotto (hip).

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