PENGUINS (28-17-1) AT WILD (22-20-3)
Last 10 --
Pittsburgh 3-7-0; Minnesota 5-5-0
Season series --
This is the second and final meeting of the season between these two cross-conference clubs. Minnesota was victorious, 2-1, back on Halloween night in Pittsburgh despite managing only 15 shots against Marc-Andre Fleury
. Wild goaltender Niklas Backstrom
was impressive that night, making 34 saves for the hard-earned win.
Big story --
The Penguins are set to play the second of their current five-game road trip, which concludes this Saturday in Vancouver. Pittsburgh has dropped six of its last eight contests and will also be seeking to avoid a third consecutive defeat to the Western Conference's Wild. Meanwhile, Minnesota will be seeking to build a winning streak with a potential third straight victory at stake.
The Pens welcomed back Sergei Gonchar to the lineup on Saturday and the defenseman wasted no time making a contribution as he scored two goals and added an assist to help Pittsburgh to the 4-1 win over the Toronto Maple Leafs at Air Canada Centre. The veteran had missed the previous four games due to a foot injury.
"He's a guy who can change a game with the way he manages the puck and the way he shoots it," captain Sidney Crosby
said after the game. "He proved it with his shot here that he’s tough to stop. He got some quality looks and made them pay."
Minnesota is still bunched up with a number of teams aiming to secure the final few playoff spots in the West, but a 6-5 shootout victory over the mighty Chicago Blackhawks on Saturday might have given the team the boost it needed. The Wild were trailing, 5-1, entering the third period, before getting four unanswered goals to force the extra period.
"The first 40 minutes we watched them skate and watched them play," coach Todd Richards said after Saturday's tilt at Xcel Energy Center. "We had a couple opportunities. But the last 20 minutes was great. The crowd and the atmosphere was unbelievable."
Who’s hot --
Crosby has scored at least one goal in three of his last four games for Pittsburgh. … Right wing Martin Havlat is in the midst of a seven-game points streak for Minnesota.
Injury report --
Forward Chris Kunitz
(abdominal surgery) will be out for at least a month for the Pens. … Defenseman Clayton Stoner
is questionable with a groin injury for Minnesota. Defenseman Brent Burns continues to skate on his own but a timetable still has not been set for his return. Forwards Pierre-Marc Bouchard
(concussion) and Chuck Kobasew are still on injured reserve.
Stat pack --
The Pens have just recently crept out of last place in power-play percentage, but they are just 29th in the NHL at 14.7 percent. … Backup goalie Josh Harding
was perfect in relief of Backstrom for the third period and overtime on Saturday, turning aside all 13 shots faced for a 1.000 save percentage.
Puck drop --
Minnesota certainly lucked out having Harding come into Saturday's game cold and turn in such a great performance. However, they will have to do a better job giving support to Backstrom, the regular starter.
"Sometimes it's a lot easier coming off the bench," Harding said. "When you're down by that much, there's not really a lot of pressure. You just go out there and have fun."