Wild-Blue Jackets Preview
It's been an up-and-down trip for the Minnesota Wild, but the club is still atop the Northwest Division.
They'll look to finish the five-game road swing with a winning record Tuesday night when they face the NHL-worst Blue Jackets, who have dominated them at home throughout the series.
The Wild extended their season-best winning streak to five by opening their trip with a victory over Calgary last Tuesday. The road stretch then took a bad turn as the team lost two straight in regulation for the first time this season, 3-1 to San Jose on Thursday and 5-2 to Los Angeles two days later.
Minnesota (9-5-3), though, rebounded with a 3-2 victory over Anaheim on Sunday. The Wild built a 3-0 lead at the first intermission with one of their best periods of the season.
"It was a big bounce-back game for us,'' said center Matt Cullen, who scored and added an assist in the opening 20 minutes. "We got off to a great start, and then we stuck to our game plan. They pushed back real hard, but (Niklas) Backstrom was huge for us again."
Backstrom is 2-1-0 with a 1.74 goals-against average on the trip following Sunday's 32-save effort. He may need to come up with more big efforts with one of the club's top defenseman, rookie Marco Scandella, out indefinitely after suffering a concussion Saturday.
Defenseman Clayton Stoner was back in the lineup Sunday after missing seven games due to a broken finger, but he doesn't appear to be fully healed after playing with a custom-made glove.
"(Injuries are a) part of the game, but it's been OK for us so far because we have other guys stepping in, playing huge minutes and playing really good hockey," Backstrom said.
The Blue Jackets (3-12-1) haven't done much of that this season, though rookie Ryan Johansen has given them a number of big moments, scoring the winner in each victory. The 19-year-old center posted his first two-goal game in a 2-1 victory over Winnipeg on Saturday after being a healthy scratch in a 6-3 loss to Chicago on Thursday.
"If he starts to understand that if he does the right things game in and game out, shift in and shift out, he's a permanent member out there,'' coach Scott Arniel said of the fourth overall pick in 2010.
Johansen did not play in a 4-2 loss in Minnesota on Oct. 8. All seven of his points, including a team high-tying five goals, have come in his last eight games.
Columbus, which has scored more than three goals once this season, needs him to continue producing as it goes for back-to-back wins for the first time since a three-game run Feb. 18-25.
Their history against the Wild on home ice suggests they may be able to come up with the elusive victory. The Blue Jackets have won 12 of the last 16 home matchups and are 13-5-0 with one tie against Minnesota all-time at Columbus.
The Blue Jackets are surrendering a league-high 3.7 goals per game, but Steve Mason is coming off a 35-save performance Saturday and could get the nod again in this contest.
Mason, though, gave up four goals on 23 shots and was pulled after the second period against Minnesota last month.