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Wild Warmup: Minnesota at Buffalo

Four-game week begins Tuesday when the Wild heads east to take on the Sabres

by Dan Myers @MNWildScribe /
The essentials

Who: Minnesota Wild (26-22-4) at Buffalo Sabres (25-20-6)

Puck drop: 6:08 p.m. CT

Watch: FOX Sports North, FOX Sports App

Listen: KFAN FM 100.3, Wild Radio NetworkWild NHL App

Follow: @mnwild; GameCenter

BUFFALO, N.Y. -- The Wild begins a busy week of action on Tuesday when it plays the Buffalo Sabres at KeyBank Center. Its the first of a four-game week for Minnesota following an 0-1-1 mark in its first two games back from the All-Star and bye week breaks. 

The trip to New York marks the first of three separate trips to the Empire State over the next two weeks, including two in the next six days; the Wild returns to Minnesota for a game against Edmonton in St. Paul on Thursday before flying east again on Friday for a weekend back-to-back against the New Jersey Devils and New York Islanders.

"I certainly think it's [an] important [week]," said Wild coach Bruce Boudreau. "If you can [win], it'll be easier for us, but if not, then the next week is going to be doubly important. 

"You'd really like to get ahead of it by winning the first game of the week and pushing forward rather than playing uphill ... and have to chase the game. We want to get ahead and be ahead."

The Wild earned a point its last time out but lost 4-3 in overtime to the Chicago Blackhawks on Saturday at Xcel Energy Center.

Combined with Dallas' hot start out of the All-Star break, Minnesota currently sits in the top wild-card spot in the Western Conference, two points behind the Stars for third in the Central Division. 

Six teams are within five points of the Wild behind them in the standings, including Vancouver, who currently holds the second wild card position with 54 points, two fewer than Minnesota. 

Colorado has 52 points while St. Louis, Arizona, Edmonton and Anaheim each have 51 points. The Blues and Coyotes have each played well the past couple of weeks while the Ducks and Oilers have struggled.

A winning week would go a long ways towards solidifying the Wild's postseason position with less than 30 games to play in the regular season.

That begins by playing a solid game in Buffalo on Tuesday.

The Sabres had a brilliant start to the season but have fallen out of a playoff spot in the Eastern Conference due in large part to its play of late. Buffalo has just three wins in its past 10 games and trails the Columbus Blue Jackets by three points for the second wild card spot. It's eight points back of Montreal, who is currently third in the Atlantic Division.

Jeff Skinner has 31 goals to lead Buffalo. Jack Eichel has a team-high 54 points to go with 37 assists. Sam Reinhart has had a breakout year with 12 goals and 33 assists. Rookie defenseman Rasmus Dahlin, the top overall pick in last summer's NHL Draft, has 28 points and is a plus-6 in 51 games this season.

Carter Hutton and Linus Ullmark have split duties between the posts for Buffalo. Hutton has seen a bulk of the action, starting 32 games and posting a 15-15-3 record to go with a 2.86 goals-against average and a .909 save percentage. 

Minnesota nice

The Wild has won six of its last nine road games, highlighted by a four-game winning streak, Dec. 29 - Jan. 7, the longest road-winning streak of the season.

Minnesota has won five straight games at Buffalo and is 9-2-0 all-time at KeyBank Center.

The Wild ranks T-2nd in the NHL with six road wins and 12 road points since Dec. 29.

Zach Parise leads the Wild in road scoring with 25 points (12-13=25) this season. Mikael Granlund is second with 21 points (7-14=21), Eric Staal is third with 19 points (6-13=19) and Charlie Coyle is fourth with 14 points (4-10=14).

Staal good

Eric Staal had his four-game point streak (3-4=7) stopped on Saturday. He owns 10 points (4-6=10) in his last eight games and tallied three points (2-1=3) Jan. 23 at COL, his 77th career game with at least three points.

The 34-year-old ranks T-1st on the team in plus/minus rating and GWG (4), second in goals and shots on goal, third in scoring, T-3rd in multi-point games (9) and fourth in PPG (4).

He recorded his 400th career NHL goal Nov. 3 at STL to become the sixth active NHL player to reach the milestone, 96th all-time.

The Thunder Bay, Ont. native skated in his 1,100th NHL game Oct. 19 at DAL to become the seventh active skate and 188th all-time to reach the 1,100-game milestone.

Staal ranks third amongst active players in shots on goal, fifth in goals, sixth in scoring, seventh in games played, ninth in PPG and 10th in assists.

Series notes

All-Time Wild Record: 13-8-2 (4-6-2 at Xcel Energy Center, 9-2-0 at Buffalo)

2018-19: Minnesota fell in the first season meeting against Buffalo, 3-2, at Xcel Energy Center (11/17)…D Matt Dumba and LW Zach Parise each scored for the Wild…G Devan Dubnyk stopped 26-of-29 shots…D Rasmus Dahlin (1-1=2), C Jack Eichel (0-2=2), D Jake McCabe (1-1=2) and RW Jason Pominville (1-1=2) led the Sabres with two points apiece…G Linus Ullmark made 37 saves.

WILD LEADERS: C Eric Staal leads Minnesota with 45 points (15-30=45) in 48 games against Buffalo…Parise owns 22 points (10-12=22) in 33 contests…C Mikko Koivu has 16 points (4-12=16) in 16 games…D Ryan Suter owns 13 points (2-11=13) in 16 matches…RW Mikael Granlund has nine points (3-6=9) in 10 games.

WILD GOALIES: Dubnyk is 5-3-0 with a 2.00 GAA, a .930 SV% and two shutouts in eight starts vs. the Sabres…G Alex Stalock recorded the loss in his sole career action, stopping 13-of-15 shots (10/25/14).

SABRES LEADERS: RW Kyle Okposo leads Buffalo with 10 points (3-7=10) in 17 games against Minnesota…C Jeff Skinner owns eight points (3- 5=8) in 12 matches…LW Vladimir Sobotka has eight points (3-5=8) in 19 contests.

SABRES GOALIES: G Carter Hutton is 2-3-1 with a 4.01 GAA, a .879 SV% and one shutout in six career games vs. the Wild (five starts)…Ullmark is 2-0-0 with a 2.00 GAA and a .942 SV% in two starts.

Did you know?

Dubnyk became the first goalie in franchise history to earn a shutout victory in his Wild debut in Minnesota's 7-0 win at Buffalo (1/15/15). The win is the largest margin of victory in franchise history… The Wild is 10-4-2 in its last 16 games against the Sabres, outscoring Buffalo 56-34 in those games, including a Wild shootout goal.

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