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Wild will ride hot goaltender vs. Blues

by John Kreiser

BLUES (6-6-0) at WILD (6-3-3)

TV: FS-Midwest (HD); FS-North (HD)

Last 10: St. Louis 5-5-0; Minnesota 5-2-3

Season Series: It's the first of four meetings this season. Minnesota won three of four in 2010-11, though two came in shootouts. The teams split the two games at the Xcel Energy Center.

Big Story: Who is Josh Harding and why does he look like the reincarnation of Jacques Plante (or any other Hall of Famer you can think of)? Harding has temporarily consigned Minnesota starter Niklas Backstrom to the bench by winning three straight games while allowing just two goals, helping the Wild climb to fourth in the West.

Team Scope:

Blues: Coaches sometimes drop a player to the fourth line to shake him up. The strategy worked for St. Louis coach Davis Payne on Friday. Payne dropped T.J. Oshie down to the fourth line for a shift in the first period; Oshie responded by driving to the net and getting his nose dirty for a pair of second-period goals, then assisting on David Backes' game-winner as the Blues beat Vancouver 3-2.

"To get goals in this League, you've got to go to the tough areas," Oshie said after the second two-goal game of his career. "Unfortunately, it took me 11 games to learn that this season. ... It hasn't been so much this year until tonight. That's something I've got to incorporate into my game a lot more."

Wild: Harding, who missed all of last season with injuries, has been the big story in Minnesota. He started only once this season before blanking Detroit 1-0 at home last Saturday; coach Mike Yeo played him again in the return match on Tuesday and was rewarded with a 2-1 overtime win. Yeo, knowing a good thing when he sees one, stayed with Harding on Thursday and saw the Wild demolish Vancouver 5-1.

Want to guess who's playing Saturday?

"We just think going into (Saturday's) game, that's the best decision for us," Yeo said of his decision to go with the hot hand. It helps that Harding is 4-2-0 with a 1.96 goals-against average against St. Louis.

Who's Hot: Blues forward David Backes has goals in back-to-back games, including the winner on Friday, Like Harding in Minnesota, Blues backup goaltender Brian Elliott has upstaged starter Jaroslav Halak; he made 28 saves Friday and is 5-1-0 with a 1.72 goals-against average. … Matt Cullen leads the Wild with six goals in 12 games, including a pair on Thursday.

Injury Report: The Blues are still without center Andy McDonald (concussion), and defenseman Kent Huskins is listed as day-to-day with a bone bruise in his ankle. David Perron has missed nearly a year while struggling to recover from a concussion of his own. … The Wild are without defensemen Clayton Stoner (finger), Greg Zanon (groin) and Mike Lundin (back).

Stat Pack: Blues forward Chris Stewart hasn't scored a goal -- at least not for his own team -- in nine games. He accidentally batted a puck behind Elliott for Vancouver's first goal on Friday and saw just 11:49 of ice time. … Minnesota's penalty-killers have killed off all 12 power plays they've faced in the last three games. The Wild is 4-0-2 when allowing the game's first goal; Minnesota was 8-31-4 last season when the opposition scored first.

Puck Drop: Yeo has been preaching the joys of shooting the puck. His message must have gotten through on Thursday: The Wild were averaging just over 26 shots a game before firing 45 at Vancouver's Cory Schneider. It was the most Minnesota had ever taken in a home game.

But one game does not make a season, and Yeo worked his team hard at practice on Friday.

"Because I thought some things came easy to us last game, I thought our guys worked very hard in practice but we were very loose," Yeo told the media afterward. "It could be a good thing, but it also could be a very bad thing."

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