The Minnesota Wild (18-14-3) will have a tough test before they can be rewarded with three days off for the holiday. They’ll face the best team in the NHL, the Tampa Bay Lightning (25-7-2), just one night after blowing a 2-1 lead against Florida.
The Wild haven’t fared too well in their back-to-back series opportunities so far this season. They’re 1-4-0 on the first night and 2-2-0 on the second night. This game wraps up their four-game road trip; they’re 1-2-0 so far.
Nino Niederreiter will miss the game after he left in the first period of Friday’s contest with a lower-body injury. He also missed six games earlier this season with an ankle sprain. Forward Zack Mitchell will take Niederreiter’s place in the lineup against the Lightning.
Tampa Bay has eight victories in its past nine games and leads the NHL in wins (25), points (52) and goals (128). They have a six-game winning streak at home. Their only loss this month came Dec. 19 in a 4-3 loss in Vegas.
The Wild split the season series with them last year, with a 4-1 loss in Tampa.
The defense will need to be on its toes facing a couple of the league’s top scorers in Steven Stamkos (45 points) and Nikita Kucherov. Kucherov leads the league with his 50 points (23-27—50) in 34 games. The duo plays on the top line with Vladislav Namestnikov.
It won’t get much easier for the Wild’s offense when facing Andrei Vasilevskiy and his 22-5-1 record along with his .931 save percentage and 2.20 GAA. He has the most wins of any goalie in the league and ranks third in save percentage and GAA.
At least the Wild’s penalty kill is still a bright spot, going 24-for-26 in the past six games. Overall, their penalty kill ranks third in the NHL at 83.8 percent.
Assuming Ryan Suter suits up for the game, it will be his 200th consecutive game, which leads the Wild. He scored the Wild’s first goal of the game against Florida on the power play and has four points in his last three games. He’s also tied with points leader Eric Staal for first on the team with 17 assists this season. To the shock of probably no one, he also leads the NHL with 27:11 time on ice per game. He’s also second on the team with 68 blocked shots.
Jason Zucker shares the goal lead on the team with Staal at 14. However, Zucker doesn’t have a goal in the past seven games and is without a point in his past six. Staal has eight points in his last seven games and 23 points in his last 23 games. He also leads the Wild with 70 points in 69 games against the Lightning.
Defenseman Matt Dumba earned an assist Friday and has five points in his four-game point streak; he has 19 points this season.
Goaltender Alex Stalock has seen all the action in goal ever since Devan Dubnyk went down with an injury. This will be his sixth consecutive start and his second back-to-back series over the past week.
The Wild will see a familiar face on the other bench in former head coach Todd Richards (2009-11).
With the NHL holiday break, every team is in action today except for Calgary. With 31 teams in the league, somebody has to be the odd man out and get the extra day off.
Devan Dubnyk (lower body), 5 games
Zach Parise (microdiscectomy surgery), 35 games
Total man games lost: 84