WILD (24-18-5) at SHARKS (24-19-5)
TV: FS-N (HD), CSN-CA (HD)
Minnesota 7-3-0; San Jose 4-6-0
Third of four meetings this season. Minnesota won the first two at Xcel Energy Center, Niklas Backstrom
stopping all 36 shots and Andrew Brunette scoring a power-play goal in a 1-0 win on Nov. 2, and Kyle Brodziak
collecting a pair of goals in a 5-3 victory on Dec. 29.
Minnesota and San Jose are both knocking on the door of the Western Conference playoff race, starting play Saturday one point behind Chicago and Colorado for seventh and eighth place. While the Sharks in particular have underachieved this season, they're coming off one of their biggest wins of the season, 2-1 in a shootout Thursday against the West-leading Canucks.
This is the third stop on a four-game road trip for Minnesota, which appears to be playing its best hockey of the season. It started with a 4-0 win over Vancouver in the Wild's most recent home game, and they've outscored Edmonton and Calgary by an aggregate score of 10-1 over the first two games of this current swing. Backstrom returned from a hip injury that sidelined him for nine games to shut out the Flames 6-0 on Wednesday, with Martin Havlat
contributing a pair of goals.
"You have to be smart," said Backstrom, who made 37 saves. "It's good to have a training staff like we have. They tell you when you're ready to go out there because as a player you don't want to miss a single day, a single practice or a game. It was a long, tough couple weeks to sit in the locker room and watch the games."
There was a lot to like as far as San Jose was concerned Thursday -- the Sharks fired 46 shots on Canucks goalie Roberto Luongo through regulation and overtime, including 25 in the second period alone. Only one of those found the back of the net, rookie Logan Couture
's 21st of the season, but Antti Niemi
was equally sound with 36 saves and the game proceeded to a shootout. That's where Joe Pavelski
scored in the second round while Niemi followed with a stop on Ryan Kesler to secure the second point.
"Nemo stole the show," Pavelski said. "They had some good looks."
Havlat has 3 goals and 2 assists during a three-game points streak for the Wild. Brunette has 3 goals and 2 assists during a four-game points streak. Matt Cullen
has 2 goals and 3 assists during a three-game points streak. … Couture has goals in consecutive games for the Sharks. The top line of Joe Thornton
, Dany Heatley
and Patrick Marleau
was held off the board against the Canucks but combined for 9 goals and 18 points over the previous four games.
Minnesota backup goalie Jose Theodore, who also battled a hip injury, is expected to be available, as Anton Khudobin was returned to the AHL. Defenseman Marco Scandella
is day-to-day with a concussion. Defenseman Marek Zidlicky
(shoulder) and forward Guillaume Latendresse
(sports hernia/hip) are on injured reserve. … San Jose goalie Antero Niittymaki
was placed on injured reserve, where he joins forward Torrey Mitchell
. Both have lower-body injuries. Forward Ryane Clowe
(undisclosed) is day-to-day.
The Wild are 20-2-4 this season when scoring first. … Niemi and Niittymaki have each won 12 games for the Sharks. Niittymaki has the better goals-against average, 2.54 to 2.71, while Niemi has the better save percentage, .913 to .901.
Niittymaki suffered his injury during Thursday's morning skate and San Jose didn't have time to recall a goalie, so University of British Columbia goalie Jordan White became their backup for the win over Vancouver. The 22-year-old signed a one-day tryout contract and left with a jersey and memories that will last him a lifetime.
"I didn’t get paid for the game," he said, "but the jersey and the hat are all I need to remember this experience."