Wild-Panthers Preview

After a promising start to a four-game road trip against Eastern

Conference teams, the Minnesota Wild can only hope for a split.

More even-strength offense could help them get there as they

meet the Florida Panthers on Saturday night.

The Wild (3-3-2) have two even-strength goals in their last 10

periods, including one in Thursday’s 3-1 loss at Tampa Bay. Mikko

Koivu scored his first goal of the season in the third to tie the

game for Minnesota, but Steven Stamkos scored at 14:56 to give

Tampa Bay the lead for good.

“Just the momentum that they were generating off their power

play put us on our heels all night,” coach Mike Yeo said after his

team took six minor penalties and a double minor. “And then our

puck work wasn’t good enough to get us out of that. We have to

address that. We can’t expect to win an awful lot of games when

we’re scoring one goal.”

The Wild have registered two or fewer goals six times, and along

with the Panthers (2-6-0), are scoring 2.25 per game.

“Obviously, we’re doing something good, but we’re missing

something and we have to find a way to find the net more,” Koivu

said.

The Wild haven’t missed much on the power play, as they’re 27.3

percentage (9 for 33) is among the best in the league.

They’ve been without starting goaltender Niklas Backstrom, who

has been out for four games with a knee injury. Backstrom dressed

as Josh Harding’s backup Thursday and could return against

Florida.

Harding hasn’t been the problem during this two-game skid after

he beat Buffalo 2-1 on Monday to start the trip. He’s 3-2-0 with a

1.15 goals-against average and .946 save percentage in four

appearances, including two starts, and Thursday was the only time

he allowed more than one goal.

The Panthers just got their goalie back from injury. Tim Thomas

returned from a four-game absence due to a groin issue to face his

old team, Boston, on Thursday.

Florida rallied from a two-goal, first-period deficit with goals

from Kris Versteeg and Jesse Winchester but was unable to get the

game to overtime. Thomas allowed a five-hole goal with under a

minute remaining in the 3-2 loss, but he kept his team in the game

with 37 saves.

“I, of course, tried to approach it just like any other game,”

Thomas said. “Having said that, it was a big game for me coming

back after a while and then, obviously, facing your former team and

a lot to-do around it. I was a little bit nervous today, but not

too bad.”

The Panthers have lost three in a row for the second time. They

gave up 17 goals with Thomas out, and their 31 allowed are

second-most in the league.

The Wild are 9-2-1 with one tie all-time against the Panthers,

winning the last meeting 3-2 on Koivu’s overtime goal March 29,

2012.