HAVING BEEN SHUT OUT in four of their last eight games, the Wild get a rare visit from the Carolina Hurricanes. This is the first time the teams have faced each other since they squared off for a pair of games in Helsinki, Finland as part of the NHL Premiere in October of 2010. The Hurricanes won both of those games, the second one in a shootout.
SOME HEALING OF INJURIES is beginning to take place with the Wild. Captain Mikko Koivu, out the last 19 games, practiced and underwent some contact Friday, and may return today. Niklas Backstrom also practiced and appears to be close to returning. Matt Cullen, injured in a knee-to-knee collision against Dallas earlier this week, skated Friday and will likely be a game time decision.
CULLEN WOULD PROBABLY like to play against the club with whom he enjoyed tremendous success. As a member of the Hurricanes for four seasons, Cullen played in 266 games, scored 72 goals and had 181 points, and was part of the 2006 Stanley Cup champion team.
WITH JUST 12 GAMES left to play, it appears Dany Heatley will finish the season as the Wild's top scorer. He currently leads the team in goals (20) and points (46). Koivu is second in points with 37, while Devin Setoguchi is second in goals with 18.
PUTTING UP GOOD NUMBERS is Wild rookie goalie Matt Hackett. He has now appeared in 10 games, and has a 2.06 goals-against average and a .934 save percentage. Those numbers rank him among the top 10 in the league among goalies who have played at least 10 games.
THE HURRICANES ARE ALSO out of playoff contention, recently wrapped up a 2-2-1 road trip and are now back on the road with this game and a match at Winnipeg tomorrow. Eric Staal leads the Hurricanes in scoring with 60 points. Leading goal scorer Jeff Skinner was handed a two-game suspension Friday for a kicking incident against St. Louis and will be unavailable today. Cam Ward has handled most of the goaltending and he posted a 40-save shutout Thursday against St. Louis. It was Ward's 200th win as a Hurricane, and the shutout was the 20th of his career, tying him with Arturs Irbe for the team record.
TODAY'S GAME MAY HAVE implications for the NHL Entry Draft this coming June in Pittsburgh. The Hurricanes, with 69 points, and currently one point ahead of the Wild in the overall NHL standings. If the season ended today, the 'Canes would draft in the sixth spot, and the Wild in the fifth spot. A Wild victory would change those positions.
AROUND THE NHL:Tampa Bay’s Steven Stamkos scored his 50th goal of the season, the second time the 22-year-old has cracked the 50-goal mark. He is just the sixth player in NHL history to have two 50-goal seasons before turning age 23. The other five are Wayne Gretzky, Mario Lemeiux, Joe Nieuwendyk, Mike Bossy and Alex Ovechkin...Sidney Crosby returned to action Thursday after missing 3-1/2 months with concussion issues and recorded an assist in Pittsburgh's 5-2 win over the Rangers...George Parros of the Anaheim Ducks and James van Riemsdyk of the Philadelphia Flyers have been named to the New Jersey High School Hall of Fame. They are two of only six players to play New Jersey High School hockey and then go on to have an NHL career.
TRIVIA QUESTION: The Hurricanes are currently based in Raleigh, North Carolina, which is the fifth city this franchise has played in. What are the previous four cities? (Answer below.)
WILD PROSPECT AND Denver University forward Jason Zucker scored the overtime game-winner – his 21st goal of the season – to give DU a win over Michigan Tech in the first game of this weekend's WCHA Final Five. He then scored again Friday in the Pioneers' double-overtime win over UMD, putting fifth-seeded DU into tonight's Final Five championship game against North Dakota. Wild prospect Erik Haula had a pair of assists in Minnesota's loss to the Sioux.
TRIVIA ANSWER: The Carolina Hurricanes franchise began life as the Boston Whalers of the World Hockey Association. After two seasons in Boston, the team announced a move to Hartford, Connecticut. While the Hartford Civic Arena was being built, the Whalers played in Springfield, Massachusetts and played as the New England Whalers. After the team was accepted in the NHL-WHA merger of 1979, they were re-named the Hartford Whalers. They moved to North Carolina in 1997, but because Raleigh had yet to build an arena, the team played for two years in Greensboro, N.C.
UP NEXT: Game Four of the current home stand is Monday, when the Wild host the Vancouver Canucks.