Jackets, Wild put epic streaks on line in clash (Dec 31, 2016)

BY AP • December 30, 2016

ST. PAUL, Minn. -- Minnesota Wild coach Bruce Boudreau joked that he wanted to skip Friday's practice after Minnesota won its 12th game in a row on Thursday against the New York Islanders.

The Wild had a day between home games, leading to valuable practice time at this point of the season. But Boudreau knew the rhetoric following practice would fall on Saturday's game against the Columbus Blue Jackets.

The buildup started before Thursday, when Minnesota extended its franchise-best streak and Columbus held up its end by winning its 14th straight game. Saturday features the first meeting of two teams on winning streaks of at least 12 games, according to STATS.

In fact, it's the first time in NHL history two teams have had concurrent win streaks of at least 12 games. Now, they meet.

"That's nuts," Wild forward Chris Stewart said.

Minnesota forward Erik Haula added: "It's quite interesting. We're just going to prepare like it's another game and just try to play like we've been playing. Try not to think about them too much, just try to focus on our team and what we can do, maybe, better."

Both teams say they are approaching Saturday as if it's another regular-season game. Indeed, it's midway through the regular season. Few regular-season games offer the same type of hype.

The Blue Jackets are at least going to enjoy the atmosphere in Minnesota.

"I want our guys to revel in it," Columbus coach John Tortorella said. "I think we have to play better. I don't think we've been on top of our game. We have won, but I don't think we've outplayed teams, by any means, the last little while.

"Athletes look to hang their hat on something. In a grind of a season, certainly not even close to anything of a playoff, it's a good game to be involved in. I'm glad we've got the opportunity."

Columbus has the league's best offense, averaging 3.44 goals per game. The Wild have the stingiest defense, allowing 2.0 goals per game.

The Blue Jackets know what they need to beat Minnesota's defense and goaltender Devan Dubnyk.

"Just use our speed," Columbus forward Nick Foligno said. "I think that's been a big difference in our club, the speed at which we play, whether it's on the regroups, neutral zone attack, getting out of our defensive zone. Those are all things that help on the offensive zone and that's something we're going to have to do against a really good team."

The Blue Jackets lost in a shootout at Florida on Nov. 26. Their last regulation loss was Nov. 23. Minnesota hasn't lost since Dec. 2 in overtime against Calgary. The Wild's last regulation loss was Nov. 29.

"They have a will to win," Minnesota coach Bruce Boudreau said of his team. "I mean, they like this. I'm sure Columbus is the same way. They like winning. Columbus gets down early and they say, 'OK, we've got to pick it up a notch,' and they're able to do it. It's a very tough stretch."

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