Strong goaltending is a big reason why the St. Louis Blues are atop the NHL.
Injuries and inconsistent play in net are posing a problem for the Minnesota Wild.
With Ryan Miller likely in goal, the Blues try to inch closer to their first Presidents’ Trophy in 14 years by continuing their dominance of the struggling Wild on Thursday night.
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St. Louis (49-16-7) owns the most points in the NHL at 105, one ahead of Eastern Conference-leading Boston and two in front of San Jose, which is atop the Pacific Division. The Blues, who last won the Presidents’ Trophy in 2000, are 10-2-1 stretch since acquiring Miller in a trade from Buffalo on March 1.
The 2010 Vezina Trophy winner is 8-2-1 with a 2.12 goals-against average since the deal. He made 22 saves in Tuesday’s 5-3 win at Toronto.
David Backes has six goals in five games, including a hat trick against the Maple Leafs. His 27 goals are four shy of his career-best set in 2008-09 and matched two seasons later.
The center, though, hasn’t scored in seven straight meetings with Minnesota (37-25-11). Despite that lack of production, St. Louis has reeled off eight consecutive victories in the series, including a 3-2 shootout win March 9 with backup Brian Elliott in goal.
This time, the Blues are expected to turn to Miller, who is 3-2-0 with a 2.30 GAA and a shutout lifetime against the Wild.
Minnesota has dropped five of seven (2-3-2), while surrendering 21 goals and the team is coming off Wednesday’s 5-2 loss to Vancouver.
It’s unclear if Darcy Kuemper or Ilya Bryzgalov will be in net. Kuemper has lost four straight starts behind a 2.70 GAA after going 6-1-1 with a 1.71 GAA.
Bryzgalov has a 2.45 GAA and 2-0-2 record in five games since being acquired in a trade with Edmonton earlier this month. He gave up two goals on seven shots in the final period Wednesday after replacing Kuemper, who stopped nine of 12.
Coach Mike Yeo is careful to criticize the netminders, who are replacing Niklas Backstrom (core muscle surgery) and Josh Harding (illness).
"I want to be careful on that one. I’m not saying that we can’t be any better between the pipes, but at the same time there’s some quality chances that we’re giving up," Yeo said. "Obviously, we have to do our part to make sure those guys are in the right frame of mind."
The Wild are in the West’s first wild-card spot, six points clear of the cutoff.
Some production from Jason Pominville and Zach Parise may add to that cushion.
Pominville leads the team with 27 goals, but he’s managed just one in five games after netting four in the previous five. Parise is in a similar funk with one goal in seven games, while both were kept off the score sheet Wednesday.
Parise, who has 24 goals, has been held without a score in his last four games versus St. Louis.
The Wild are opening a four-game road trip against teams currently in playoff position in the West. After visiting St. Louis, Minnesota faces Phoenix on Saturday, Los Angeles two days later and Chicago next Thursday.