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Playoff Points On The Line In Vancouver

by Mike Doyle / Minnesota Wild

The Minnesota Wild doesn’t get a chance to dip its toe in the water and slink back into the regular season. The Wild cannonballs back into action finishing off the second of a back-to-back road trip in Vancouver. It is the only time Minnesota visits Rogers Arena this season.

The Wild and Canucks have a long and spiteful history with one another, and despite no longer being Northwest Division rivals, Wild Head Coach Mike Yeo thinks that there is still some bad-blood residue on this matchup.

“It’s still a good rivalry,” Yeo said. “Bottom line, we know what to expect. We expect a team that’s going to be desperate and we expect a team that’s going to play very hard.

“Both teams recognize the importance of this game, so it should be a fun one.”

What Yeo is referring to is playoff positioning. Currently the Wild sits in seventh place in the Western Conference and is six points ahead of Vancouver. Not that the Lighthouse has to tell you, but creating separation between the teams below Minnesota in the standings is paramount with only 22 games left in the regular season. The Canucks will be fighting for its playoff life tonight against the Wild, so we should have a post-season-like atmosphere in Rogers Arena tonight.

One member of the Wild who has seen his fair share of the Minni-Van relationship over the years is former Canuck, Keith Ballard. After being bought out by Vancouver at the end of last season, the Baudette native signed as a free agent with Minnesota in the summer. However, the blueliner is no stranger to returning to a former place of business.

“Try to make it like another game,” Ballard said. “I’ve had a few situations where I’ve played against former teams in former buildings for the first time, so you just try to make it as normal as possible.

“It worked out good, it’s a quick trip so there’s not much of a distraction. We got in late last night, play a game and get out of here.”

Ballard and the Wild would like to get another two points and keep things rolling on the road and in the New Year. Since Jan. 1, Minnesota is 12-4-2, and has earned points in nine of 11 road games, going 7-2-2 during the stretch. A win tonight would be the club’s first sweep in back-to-back contests.

Koivu Out, Scandella Unlikely

The Wild will be without captain Mikko Koivu for a 17th-straight game tonight after suffering a fractured ankle on Jan. 4.

“It’s getting better, but pretty much the same story this whole week,” Koivu said. “It’s slowly getting there, but still not quite where I want to be. Especially in battles and things like that.”

With the way that the blue line played yesterday, Yeo said that it would be doubtful Marco Scandella will return, so the blue line will more than likely remain the same as last night’s win.

“Talking to all our D-men and everybody feels good; we’d have to be real sure Marco was ready to go,” Yeo said. “Those six guys battled hard yesterday and played a real strong game. It wouldn’t hurt Marco to have another day of practice and another day of rest.”

Go Fourth

With Koivu out, the lines are expected to remain the same as the way things ended against Edmonton, including the fourth line of Erik Haula, Stephan Veilleux and Torrey Mitchell. Yeo likes the line’s speed and ability to turn the tide with its energy. Obviously contributing offense is a big plus, like Veilleux’s second-period goal yesterday, but the entire line has been contributing on the special teams, which gives the Wild more flexibility.

“It’s nice having all three of those guys able to be penalty killers,” Yeo said. “It allows us to rest other guys in some of those areas.”

Heating Up

Dany Healtey has been producing quietly for Minnesota, scoring again last night to extend a point streak to five-straight games, racking up three goals and three assists over that period. In his last 14 games, the big wing has 12 points (4-8=12).

“His goal…he’s the first on the puck on the forecheck and wins a battle down low,” Yeo said. “Allows us to set up our offensive zone play and then wins a battle in front of the net.

“Those are the things you see from Dany when he’s on top of his game and you’ve been seeing a lot more of it lately.”

Torts Being Torts

Vancouver Head Coach John Tortorella has garnered a reputation for being ornery with the media from time to time. Today when speaking to the media after Vancouver’s pregame skate he was asked about what he’s seen out of Minnesota and the bench boss delivered this winner: “I haven’t spent any time looking at Minnesota.” Classic, Torts.

Kesler Returns

Vancouver will see the return of Ryan Kesler tonight. The center missed the team’s last outing, a 1-0 win on Wednesday over St. Louis, after injuring his hand while playing for Team USA in the Olympics.

With the National Hockey League Trade Deadline Day looming, yesterday Kesler denied rumors that he requested to be traded from Vancouver.

Lack Back

The Canucks will start netminder Eddie Lack, who pitched a 20-save shutout against the Blues.

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