Preview: Flames vs. Wild
FLAMES (34-26-14) at WILD (30-32-10)
Last 10: Calgary 5-2-3; Minnesota 2-7-1
Season Series: The Flames have won four straight against the Wild after losing the first meeting of the season. Calgary has outscored Minnesota 14-7 in the four wins. The Wild had won the previous four matchups before this current streak.
Big Story: There are six teams battling for three spots in the Western Conference, and Calgary enters play Thursday at the back of that pack, so leaving St. Paul with two points by beating the reeling Wild is almost a must for their postseason chances.
Flames: Calgary currently sits in 11th place in the Western Conference with 82 points. Dallas, Colorado, Los Angeles, Phoenix and San Jose are in front of the Flames, but none of those teams is more than three points ahead. Those six teams are fighting for three spots -- though the Flames and Avalanche can only claim two of them (one is the No. 3 spot reserved for the Pacific Division champion).
The Flames need to rebound from a trio of disappointing losses to Edmonton, Columbus and Colorado. Calgary had won five in a row before that, but the offense has dried up. The Flames have scored one goal in each of the losses after pouring in 21 during the winning streak.
"At this time, we've got to find ways to win," forward Alex Tanguay told reporters after Tuesday's 2-1 overtime loss to Colorado. "We certainly put it all out there. We still feel we played a pretty solid game, had tons of chances, and they got the last break."
Wild: Captain Mikko Koivu has missed the past 15 games and 23 of 27 because of injury, but he should be back Thursday night and in the middle of the team's top line. Dany Heatley has one goal in the past 16 games and no points in the past eight.
Though the Wild is coming off a 2-0 win against Vancouver on Monday, Minnesota has lost 19 of 27 games since Koivu was originally injured, and the Wild have tumbled all the way to 27th place in the League standings after sitting in first place in early December.
"Obviously, (we're) not in the spot where we want to be," Koivu said, "but all we can do is play as good as we can and as hard as we can the rest of the 10 games,"
Who's Hot: Matt Stajan has five goals and eight points in his past eight games for the Flames. Erik Christensen has four goals in the past four games for the Wild.
Injury Report: The line in Calgary's trainers' room is getting a little shorter, but the Flames lost another key figure after the loss to Colorado. Defenseman Cory Sarich was sent back to Calgary for further evaluation on an upper-body injury. Chris Butler, who has been out for a month because of a skate cut, could replace him in the lineup. The Flames are also without forwards Michael Cammalleri, Mikael Backlund and Blair Jones. Defenseman T.J. Brodie and forward Lance Bouma were the most recent additions to the medical watch before Sarich. … Minnesota is likely to be without the services of Pierre-Marc Bouchard, Guillaume Latendresse and Mike Lundin for the rest of the season. Defenseman Justin Falk has missed the past six games with a knee injury. The injury bug has even reached one of the team's top prospects -- University of Denver forward Jason Zucker went to the hospital as a precaution after an upper-body injury in the WCHA conference championship game. Denver hopes Zucker will be able to play this weekend in the NCAA tournament.
Stat Pack: Calgary is 5-14 in games decided after 60 minutes this season -- the Flames are 3-8 in shootouts and 2-6 in games decided in overtime. Colorado is only three points ahead of Calgary, but is 9-2 in shootouts.
Puck Drop: A massive slide from the top of the League standings after 30 games to the lottery has made this an incredibly disappointing season in the Twin Cities, but it might not be the worst thing in the long run for the franchise. The Wild have picked in the top five of the NHL Draft only twice in franchise history -- Marian Gaborik at No. 3 in 2000 and Benoit Pouliot at No. 4 in 2005.
They haven't made the playoffs the past three years, but they've been close enough to not end up with a prime pick in the first round. Adding a lottery pick (and a pick in the 31-35 range overall at the top of the second round) to Minnesota's stable of potential stars (Mikael Granlund, Jonas Brodin, Charlie Coyle) and solid prospects (Brett Bulmer, Jason Zucker, Matt Hackett), not to mention a solid group of young players already on the big-league roster, could make the Wild a Cup contender in the near future.