WELCOME TO THE 33rd AND final hockey game of the month at the Xcel Energy Center. This month the building has hosted the Class A and AA Minnesota State High School tournaments, the WCHA Final Five, the NCAA West Regional and nine Wild games.
FOR THE THIRD STRAIGHT GAME, the Wild face a team that is leading its division. The Kings moved into first place in the Pacific Division last night with a 4-1 win at Edmonton that allowed them to jump over Phoenix and Dallas for the division lead. It's an incredibly tight division with the Kings, Coyotes, Stars and Sharks all separated by just two points, and each with four games remaining. Dallas plays at San Jose tonight, and the loser of that game will have an uphill fight for a playoff spot.
THE KINGS HAVE FOUGHT their way to the top, in part, on the back of Jonathan Quick's goaltending. Quick is 7-2 in his last nine starts with a 1.42 goals against average. The Kings have been solid defensively all season, giving up just 166 goals, second-lowest in the league. Anze Kopitar leads the Kings in both goals (24) and points (67). Dustin Brown has 20 goals, and Justin Williams has added 19. The Kings made a big move at the trade deadline, picking up Jeff Carter from the Columbus Blue Jackets, and he's responded with six goals and nine points in 16 games. Carter missed Friday's game in Edmonton with an injured ankle, and is questionable for tonight.
THIS IS THE FOURTH AND final meeting of the year, with the Kings having won two of the first three. The teams split their two games in L.A., and the Kings won in St. Paul 4-0 on Feb. 28. The Wild are 18-15-10 all-time against the Kings, 8-7-6 In St. Paul.
MILESTONES: Two Wild players reach NHL milestones tonight. Tom Gilbert will play in his 400th NHL game, while Cal Clutterbuck plays in his 300th. Clutterbuck’s next point will be the 100th of his career.
THE WILD'S DRAMATIC COMEBACK win on Thursday, 3-2 over Florida, leaves them with an 18-16-4 record at home this year, just one victory short of last season's 19-17-5 mark at Xcel Energy Center. Kyle Brodziak's second-period goal was his 21st of the season, a personal best that ties him with Dany Heatley for the team lead. Eric Christensen's game-tying goal with 33 seconds left was his fifth goal in his last nine games. Jason Zucker, making his NHL debut, had 10:55 of ice time and had three shots on goal. Zucker was the 45th player to wear a Wild uniform this season, the 14th rookie and eighth player to make his NHL debut. Tom Gilbert had a pair of assists, including the pass that sprung Koivu for the game-winner. It was Gilbert’s first multi-point game as a member of the Wild.
WELCOME BACK, SORT OF, to Brett Bulmer, who began the season with the Wild and played nine games before being sent back to his junior team, the Kelowna Rockets. With Kelowna eliminated from the Western Hockey League playoffs, the Wild have assigned Bulmer to Houston. (He can only be recalled to the Wild in an emergency situation). In 53 games at Kelowna, Bulmer had 34 goals and 62 points, along with 93 penalty minutes.
AROUND THE NHL: The New York Rangers became the first team to reach 50 wins with a 4-1 victory Friday night over Montreal. Pittsburgh, St. Louis and Vancouver each have 48, and each have four games left to play…Nashville beat Detroit 4-1 Friday night, giving Predators coach Barry Trotz his 500th career win…The Rangers lead the race for the President's Trophy, given each year to the team with the best regular-season record. New York is at 107 points, followed by St. Louis with 106 and Vancouver with 105.
TRIVIA QUESTION: The NHL record for standings points in a season is 132. Which team holds the mark, and did they win the Stanley Cup that year? (Answer below).
HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO Mr. Hockey himself, Gordie Howe, who turns 84 today. Howe compiled one of the most amazing records of any professional athlete in any sport, entering the NHL in 1946 and ending his career in 1980, when he scored 15 goals and had 41 points while playing 80 games for the Hartford Whalers at the age of 52. The totals of his combined NHL and WHA years are staggering: 975 goals, 2,358 points and 2,186 games played.
TRIVIA ANSWER: The 1976-77 Montreal Canadiens were one of the greatest teams in hockey history, and set the NHL record of 132 with an amazing 60-8-12 mark in an 80-game season. They roared through the playoffs, winning 12 of 14 games and sweeping the Boston Bruins in the Cup Finals. Guy Lafluer had 56 goals and 80 assists for 136 points, but wasn't the team's leading goal scorer. That honor went to Steve Shutt, who netted 60 goals. Third on the team was former Wild coach Jacques Lemaire, with 34 goals.
UP NEXT: The Wild embark on their final road trip of the season, playing at Chicago tomorrow and at Nashville on Tuesday. They return home for their final two games Thursday and Saturday, against Chicago and Phoenix.