Blues-Wild Preview

The Minnesota Wild rebounded nicely from a rare defeat. Now a
visit by the struggling St. Louis Blues could help the Wild
continue their playoff push.

Minnesota goes for a season-best fifth consecutive home win
Monday night against a Blues team that could have newcomer Jordan
Leopold in the lineup.

After its seven-game winning streak ended with a 5-3 loss in
Dallas on Friday, the Wild (21-11-2) bounced back to defeat Los
Angeles 4-3 in a shootout Saturday. Minnesota trailed 3-1 in the
second period before Charlie Coyle and Zach Parise scored.

The Wild tied Vancouver with 44 points atop the Northwest
Division and have a game in hand.

“All I can say is just huge amounts of character,” said coach
Mike Yeo, whose club equaled a team record for victories in a month
with 11.

The Wild have been getting big production throughout their
lineup. During the 8-1-0 run, Minnesota had six of the top 13
scorers in the NHL in Mikko Koivu (13 points), Parise (11) and
Pierre-Marc Bouchard, Matt Cullen, Devin Setoguchi and Ryan Suter
(10 apiece).

In the Blues’ last visit to St. Paul on Nov. 19, 2011, Koivu
scored twice and Cullen had the winning goal in the shootout in a
3-2 victory. Minnesota has won 13 of the past 16 home matchups.

While the Wild go for their longest home unbeaten streak since a
six-game run Oct. 29-Nov. 23, 2011, the Blues (17-14-2) are after
their first victory in four tries. They’ve scored four times during
their skid, half of those goals coming from Vladimir Tarasenko in a
4-2 loss to the Kings on Thursday.

“It doesn’t matter how many goals you score and how many plays
you make. It’s all about the win,” said Tarasenko, whose first
tally ended the club’s 0-for-12 power-play skid.

The Blues are locked in a tight race for one of the final
playoff spots in the West. The acquisition of Leopold from Buffalo
on Saturday could give them the boost they need in their own end
and on the power play, as he regularly manned the point with the
man advantage for the Sabres.

The defenseman could be paired with Alex Pietrangelo or Kevin
Shattenkirk, according to general manager Doug Armstrong.

“We feel our depth is much more improved as of 3 o’clock today
than it was 3 o’clock yesterday,” Armstrong said. “Our goal, first
and foremost, we have to get into the playoffs. We’ve put ourselves
in a position where we’re going to have to work hard to maintain
our position and improve it.”

The Blues’ goaltending needs to improve, and for now, the team
will move forward with Jaroslav Halak and Brian Elliott. Rookie
Jake Allen has provided a big lift by going 8-3-0 with a 2.45
goals-against average, but he was sent to Peoria of the AHL on
Saturday.

Elliott, who made 12 saves in a 5-4 overtime home win over
Minnesota on Jan. 27, will rejoin the team after a conditioning
assignment at Peoria and back up Halak on Monday.

The Wild’s Niklas Backstrom, the NHL leader with 19 victories,
has surrendered 11 goals while losing his last two games versus St.
Louis and was beaten a season-high five times in the last meeting.
However, he’s won a career-best eight consecutive starts after
Saturday’s 28-save performance.