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  • Preview: Wild look to continue hot streak against reinforced Maple Leafs


    After struggling throughout much of the month of February, the Minnesota Wild have rattled off four straight.

    With the trade deadline looming, there isn’t much time left to see what the Wild have with their current group — the only moves they’ve made recently were retained-salary transactions, facilitating the trades of a few big names including one Ryan O’Reilly. They’ll face him tonight as the Wild visit the Toronto Maple Leafs.

    Wild at Maple Leafs

    When: 6:00 p.m. CT
    Where: Scotiabank Arena
    Radio: KFAN 100.3 FM

    There’s no telling what version of the Leafs you’ll get when you show up to the rink to play them. The Leafs have had an extremely soft schedule in the month of February, mostly playing teams in the Bedard sweepstakes. They’ve managed to lose to both Columbus and Chicago in that time, but they’ve beaten those same two teams soundly this month as well, and looked absolutely monstrous for the first forty minutes of their game against Buffalo. We’ll se which flavor of Maple we get tonight.

    The Wild are on a four-game win streak that includes wins over playoff teams like the LA Kings and conference-leading Dallas Stars, but it’s been a while since we saw them win in truly convincing fashion and score a bunch of goals. That’ll be a tall task today against a team like the Leafs, but with goaltender Ilya Samsonov in the midst of a rough patch and defender Rasmus Sandin returning from injury, they have a real chance to take advantage of Toronto’s inconsistency and put up big numbers tonight.

    Projected Wild lineup

    Kirill Kaprizov — Ryan Hartman — Mats Zuccarello
    Marcus Foligno — Joel Eriksson Ek — Matt Boldy
    Jordan Greenway — Frederick Gaudreau — Brandon Duhaime
    Mason Shaw — Connor Dewar — Ryan Reaves

    Jake Middleton — Jared Spurgeon
    Alex Goligoski — Matt Dumba
    Dakota Mermis — Calen Addison

    Filip Gustavsson

    Marc-Andre Fleury was given the softer half of the back-to-back and performed admirably, earning a shutout in a game where his team played well in front of him but ceded a lot of possession to one of the league’s worst teams. Filip Gustavsson has been unreal between the pipes this season (and especially this month), but will face a tough test against a high-powered Toronto offense that’s only gotten more dangerous with the acquisition of Ryan O’Reilly.

    Dakota Mermis was recalled on an emergency basis after Jonas Brodin was placed on IR yesterday, and performed admirably in his first NHL action this season. Brodin will be unavailable for at least a week after being placed on the IR, so we might be seeing more of Mermis in the next little while.

    Projected Leafs lineup

    Michael Bunting — Auston Matthews — William Nylander
    John Tavares — Ryan O’Reilly — Mitch Marner
    Pierre Engvall — David Kampf — Calle Jarnkrok
    Zach Aston-Reese — Noel Acciari — Alex Kerfoot

    Morgan Rielly — TJ Brodie
    Mark Giordano — Timothy Liljegren
    Rasmus Sandin — Justin Holl

    Ilya Samsonov

    Leafs GM Kyle Dubas made his big swing last week, picking up the aforementioned O’Reilly and Noel Acciari.

    One of the biggest stories in Leafland is what the plan will be for the second line moving forward. Sheldon Keefe has made no secret of his plans to eventually move John Tavares back to his natural center position and presumably shift Ryan O’Reilly to the 3C spot, but the Good Ontario Boys line was untouchable against the Sabres on Tuesday. It’s going to be hard to justify breaking the line up if they continue to put up performances like that.

    Rasmus Sandin makes his return to the lineup from injury tonight, but won’t be with his usual partner Timothy Liljegren. Instead, Liljegren will play with Mark Giordano and Sandin will play with Justin Holl.

    After a fantastic start to the season, Ilya Samsonov has cooled off in recent weeks, but has still given the Leafs a solid chance to win on most nights. He’s definitely not playing with the same level of confidence or poise as he was earlier in the season, though.

    The puck drops at 6:00 p.m. CT at Scotiabank Arena.

    Burning Questions

    Can Marcus Foligno have an impact?

    Foligno is coming back from an injury, and before he was hurt, had been really struggling throughout the month of February. When he’s on, he can be a huge impact player, as we saw last season, but he hasn’t really been able to hit that gear at any point this year. We’ll see if he can rediscover some of that magic tonight.

    Can Filip Gustavsson continue his phenomenal February against another high-powered offense?

    Gustavsson has been nothing short of spectacular in February, with really only one questionable performance (in a game they still won, against Nashville). He has a real ability to stymie elite offenses like New Jersey, Tampa Bay and Carolina, but hasn’t gotten a chance against Toronto yet this year. How will he do against a high-scoring team that’s upgraded their top six?


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