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  • It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Contention for the Wild, which returns home tonight


    7:00PM Central, Xcel Energy Center, St. Paul, Minnesota
    TV: Fox Sports-North Plus
    Radio: KFAN 100.3 and affiliates
    Streaming: Fox Sports Go app

    As the great Perry Como once sang around this time of year, “It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Contention.” At least I’m pretty sure that was the name of Como’s holiday hit, which was also later recorded by such crooners as Bing Crosby and Michael Bublé. The song was (I believe) written in the early 1950’s, cleverly worded to apply to hockey teams that start to play a little bit better team defense in December and factor themselves back into playoff races, despite early season struggles. Don’t quote me on any of that, but I believe I’m correct in the history of the song.

    It truly is beginning to look a lot like contention for the Wild, though. As of Monday afternoon, Minnesota held a Wild Card spot in the Western Conference by the narrowest of margins after winning the last two of its three-game trip through California, coincidentally also by the narrowest of margins. By the end of last night, Minnesota had fallen back out of said Wild Card spot, after being leapfrogged by the Dallas Stars, who won against the Rangers. With all of the Wild’s ups and downs, injury woes, and questionable levels of effort at times this season, being on the bubble and trending up at this stage is about all that we can ask for. The Wild does seem to be jelling and generally playing better in all three zones, and it is not yet too late for the team to get back into the middle of the playoff pack.

    Minnesota collapsed badly a week ago in Los Angeles, letting the Pacific’s top team score four unanswered goals in a third period onslaught led by Marian Gaborik. But the Wild responded with a complete game against Anaheim to ultimately earn an overtime win. Then in San Jose on Sunday, Minnesota played two excellent periods and just held on for dear life in the third, getting plenty of help from Alex Stalock to push Brent Burns and the Sharks into overtime, where the Wild again… somehow… got the victory. So, under Bruce Boudreau, the Wild has now earned nine out of a possible twelve points on its last two California road trips, always an incredibly daunting swing to visit three very solid opponents. 

    Tonight the Wild returns home for its first of three games at Xcel Energy Center, all of which will be against Canadian opponents. First on the docket is the team that is now one point ahead of the Green ‘n’ Wheats for the final Wild Card spot in the Western Conference.  

    [insert your own pun about extinguishing… or putting out… or dousing… the Flames here].


    The Calgary Johnny Gaudreau’s come to St. Paul for the second meeting between these two clubs, with the first having taken place on October 21st at the Saddledome. I gave a general overview of the situation in Calgary in the Preview for that game, so feel free to give that a read to brush up. Stalock starred in the first tilt, making 35 of 37 saves to help Minnesota earn just its second victory of the year.

    Since these teams last met, the Flames have had modest success, going 12-8-2 in the 22 games that have followed. Though unsurprisingly led in scoring by the diminutive-but-ultra-talented Johnny Hockey, Calgary is getting exceptional production from Sean Monahan, who centers Gaudreau’s top line in style and is quietly blossoming into a superstar. Still just 23 years old, Monahan already has seventeen tallies on the season—good for fourth in the NHL—and is well on pace to eclipse his career-high 31 markers, which he recorded in ’14-’15.

    Pesky young stud Matthew Tkachuk may soon earn himself a ceremonial brick in the sidewalk outside the NHL Player Safety Department, which has dished out two separate one-game suspensions to the youthful agitator this season. The most recent banishment came last week, when Tkachuk gave a little love poke (not that kind of love poke… get your mind out of the gutter!) to Matt Martin with the end of his stick blade. It wasn’t a terribly egregious act, but Tkachuk happened to give the jab over the boards while he was on the bench, and that’s a big no-no in the eyes of the NHL. Watch closely:

    Tkachuk, who plays a very old-school and rugged game for a young millennial, returned to score two goals against Vancouver on Saturday.

    The Flames—like the Wild—have been winners in their last two.


    Guys, I REALLY hate to bring this up, but Mikko Watch enters game 21 tonight. The Wild’s Kaptain and best two-way forward has now gone twenty (!) games without registering a goal. After seeing Koivu get several great looks in Anaheim on Friday, I was convinced he would score in San Jose, to the point that I plainly predicted it in the last Preview. I was incorrect. What’s great about Mikko, though, is that even when he isn’t scoring and producing offensively, he absolutely is factoring into games on the defensive side of the puck. He faces another tall task tonight against the Gaudreau/Monahan/Michael Ferland line, as shutting down that top trio will be the main defensive key to success this evening for the Wild.

    I don’t spend a ton of time talking about Ryan Suter in this space, because we all know that he’s good. But holy cats did he do some incredible things against the Sharks on Sunday! On Eric Staal’s first goal of the game, when everyone on the ice, in the stands, and watching from their couches at home thought he would shoot (even I was screaming “SHOOOOOOT!” at the TV louder than a Predators fan in the upper tier at Bridgestone Arena), he circled around the net and found Staal for an easy tap-in. We then got to see what happens when opposing players try to beat Suter one-on-one, as consecutive Sharks players were casually pushed onto their respective buttocks by Minnesota’s $98-million man. Let’s just say Suter’s game Sunday was nicer to watch than his Kwik Trip commercials.

    A quick note to the men in stripes: the Wild has seen more than its fair share of penalties over the past few games, so if you could tilt that scale a bit toward Calgary this evening, that’d be great. Make sure you keep a close eye on Tkachuk!


    No—Zach Parise or Jared Spurgeon. Per Michael Russo of The Athletic, Spurgeon has begun skating, and Parise is now shooting pucks, as he continues to rehab. 

    For Calgary, the legendary Jaromir Jagr has been out since December 4th with a lower body injury, and again will not dress tonight. Kris Versteeg is recovering from hip surgery after “he zigged when he should’ve zagged.” Those are actually the words that GM Brad Treliving used to describe Versteeg’s injury. The Flames injury report comes from Rotoworld.

    Below are the projected lineups, thanks to DailyFaceoff.com. The Gamethread will post at 6:30PM Central. Thanks for reading!

    **QUICK UPDATE ON THE BELOW: Sarah McLellan of the Strib says Mike Reilly and Tyler Ennis are the scratches. This will be the first scratch for Ennis as a member of the Wild.**

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