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Wild Warmup: Minnesota at Washington

Top teams in each conference collide for first time this season

by Dan Myers @1DanMyers / Wild.com

The essentials

Who: Minnesota Wild (43-18-6, 92 points, first place, Central Division) at Florida Panthers (44-17-7, 95 points, first place, Metropolitan Division)

Puck drop: 6:08 p.m. CT

Watch: FOX Sports North; FOX Sports Go;  Wild Watch Bar locationsNHL.TV

Listen: KFAN 100.3 FM

Follow: @mnwild; GameCenter


At the rink

Tyler Graovac's trip into the nation's capital was relatively easy. For his equipment, it was a little more complicated.

With a fierce winter storm bearing down on the East Coast, the Wild summoned Graovac to Washington to take the place of Martin Hanzal, who is back in the Twin Cities dealing with an illness. Graovac, who helped the Iowa Wild to a two-game sweep of the Texas Stars over the weekend, was able to fly into D.C. direct from Austin, Texas, arriving around 8:30 on Monday night.

His equipment, however, had already returned to Des Moines.

Wild team operations manager Andrew Heydt didn't want to chance sending the bag via FedEx, in case the storm grounded all flights to the area. So he enlisted the services of Iowa assistant equipment manager Ian Fisher to fly commercially with the bag. 

After a connecting flight to Minneapolis, Fisher and Graovac's equipment was headed for Washington. Originally scheduled to arrive at Ronald Reagan International on the banks of the Potomac River, the flight was re-routed to Dulles, a 30-minute drive (under normal conditions) south of the city in northern Virginia. 

The plane touched down, and Fisher waited for the equipment before embarking on a slow ride into Washington. He finally arrived with the bag around 3:30 a.m. local time.

Fisher was headed back to Des Moines on Tuesday, but with airports up and down the East Coast dealing with closures and cancellations, his flight back to the Twin Cities had already been delayed several hours. 

"I don't deal with the equipment, which I'm thankful for," Graovac said with a smile. "Good thing I didn't have to pick it up. But I am thankful for the guys to take care of that for me."

Graovac will get an opportunity to help the Wild on Tuesday against one of the NHL's top teams, the Washington Capitals, who are tied with the Pittsburgh Penguins for the most points in the League.

Still just 23 years old, Graovac said he's excited to hit the ice in a game of this magnitude and play against a guy like Alex Ovechkin, who he said he's grown up watching play.

"It's my first time here in Washington, first time at this rink, first time playing this team. I'm looking for the challenge," Graovac said. "This is what the playoffs are going to be like. This is a Stanley Cup-type game tonight. I'm really looking forward to being a part of it."

Here are the projected lineups:

WILD

Nino Niederreiter - Eric Staal - Charlie Coyle

Mikael Granlund - Mikko Koivu - Jason Zucker

Zach Parise - Erik Haula - Jason Pominville

Chris Stewart - Tyler Graovac - Ryan White

Ryan Suter - Jared Spurgeon

Jonas Brodin - Matt Dumba

Marco Scandella - Nate Prosser

Devan Dubnyk

Darcy Kuemper

CAPITALS

Alex Ovechkin - Nicklas Backstrom - T.J. Oshie

Marcus Johansson - Evgeny Kuznetsov - Justin Williams

Brett Connolly - Lars Eller - Jakub Vrana

Daniel Winnik - Jay Beagle - Tom Wilson

Karl Alzner - John Carlson

Dmitri Orlov - Matt Niskanen

Brooks Orpik - Nate Schmidt

Braden Holtby

Philipp Grubauer


The opponent

Having lost four straight games, the Washington Capitals are mired in their longest losing streak in more than two years. Winger Alex Ovechkin, the club's leading goal scorer, hasn't scored a goal in 10 games, the longest drought of his NHL career. Defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk, acquired in a trade from the St. Louis Blues on Feb. 27, will not play (suspension). Washington is beginning a stretch of five of six at home, where it's tied with Pittsburgh for the most home wins this season (27). 


Connections

• Wild coach Bruce Boudreau served as the Cap­itals head coach in parts of five seasons (2007-11), compiling a 201-88-40 record, winning the Southeast Division four times and earning the 2008 Jack Adams Award.

• Wild assistant coach Scott Stevens was drafted in the first round (fifth overall) by Washington in the 1982 NHL Entry Draft. He collected 429 points (98-331=429) in 601 games during eight seasons with the Capitals from 1982-90.

• Wild goaltending coach Bob Mason went 35-29-7 in 76 games for the Capitals in five seasons (1983- 87, 1989-90).

• Capitals defenseman Matt Niskanen is a Virginia, Minnesota native and played at the Uni­versity of Minnesota Duluth (2005-07).

• Capitals forward T.J. Oshie played high school hockey in Warroad and collegiately at the University of North Dakota.

• Capitals defenseman Nate Schmidt hails from St. Cloud and played at the University of Minnesota (2010-13).


Different strokes

Minnesota's plus-60 goal differential ranks second in the NHL behind Washington and is nearly double the next-best goal differential in the Western Conference (Chicago, plus-33). The Wild's single-season franchise record for goal differential is plus-41, set in 2006-07 (Elias Sports Bureau). Minnesota's 163 goals allowed this season are fourth fewest in the NHL.

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