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Wild-Thrashers Preview

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After an eventful offseason, the Minnesota Wild weren't sure what to expect for 2008-09. Their first game indicated they might have a good foundation in place.

The defending Northwest Division champion Wild look to build off their season-opening win when they visit the Atlanta Thrashers on Tuesday.

Minnesota won the first division title in its eight-year franchise history last season before losing to Colorado in six games in the first round of the playoffs.

Following last season's success, however, the Wild cut ties with Brian Rolston, Pavol Demitra and Mark Parrish, and did not offer a contract extension to All-Star Marian Gaborik, increasing the possibility of him being traded.

To try and replace the scoring and leadership lost from Rolston, Demitra and Parrish, who combined for 62 goals and 81 assists last season, Minnesota signed free agents Marc-Andre Bergeron and Owen Nolan.

In Minnesota's 4-3 season-opening win over Boston on Saturday, all four players who made their Wild debuts - Bergeron, Nolan, rookie Colton Gillies and Antti Miettinen - had points.

Bergeron and Miettinen each had a goal, while eight-year veteran Eric Belanger scored twice.

Minnesota also had solid play from its special teams, as it went 2-for-3 on the power play and killed all four of the Bruins' chances with the man advantage, including a four-minute power play in the third period.

"It's great to win, but you have to know there's certain things you have to do in the future if you want to keep winning," Wild coach Jacques Lemaire said. "I have to see more. I like the potential that we have. Now we've got to play to that."

Lemaire also would like to see Belanger continue to score goals for an entire season, and he plans on keeping him on the ice more for offensive purposes.

Belanger had 12 goals and 20 assists in his first 45 games in 2007-08, but was held to one goal and four assists in his final 30 games when he moved to a checking line and had fewer opportunities to score.

"I'm definitely capable of doing that, and hopefully I can do that all year," Belanger said. "If they want me to check the other top line I can do that also, but this is a team game."

Wild goaltender Niklas Backstrom, who stopped 34 shots Saturday, made 24 saves in his only start against the Thrashers, a 3-2 shootout loss on March 7. That defeat in the lone meeting between these teams last season snapped Minnesota's five-game winning streak over Atlanta (1-0-1).

The Thrashers are coming off a 3-2 overtime loss at Florida on Saturday after a 7-4 season-opening win over Washington on Friday.

Atlanta's power-play unit was not as sharp Saturday, failing to score on all five chances with the man advantage after converting 3-of-9 opportunities in the opener.

"I think that if we'd gotten four (points) it would have been better," first-year Thrashers coach John Anderson said.

Ilya Kovalchuk is still seeking his first goal of the season after finishing second in the league with 52 goals in 2007-08. Kovalchuk, who has two assists, had a goal and an assist in last season's win over the Wild.

Goalie Kari Lehtonen made 35 saves against the Bruins after stopping 39 shots in the season-opening win. In his only career start against the Wild on Jan. 2, 2007, Lehtonen made 30 saves in a 5-1 loss.

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