MINNESOTA WILD AT CALGARY FLAMES
9:00PM Central, Scotiabank Saddledome, Calgary, Alberta
TV: Fox Sports-North, CBC, Sportsnet
Radio: KFAN 100.3 and affiliates
Streaming: Fox Sports Go app, ESPN+
Well, this one could be… interesting.
There’s some serious history between tonight’s teams, the Minnesota Wild and the Calgary Flames. Calgary has gotten the better of Minnesota in both of the previous meetings on the scoreboard, but what sticks out from those two matchups is the extracurriculars and their impacts on both teams.
In the first game between these teams, December 6th, Mark Giordano kneed Mikko Koivu, leading to the Wild Kaptain missing several games and Giordano getting suspended for two. Late in that same game, Matt Dumba stepped up in the middle of the ice and flattened Mikael Backlund, for which the Flames all went crazy and chased after Dumba, eventually punching him while he was lying on the ice.
Backlund did suffer a concussion on the play, and being that it was the final minute and the game was effectively over, the hit was probably not necessary. But it was ruled clean by both the referees on the ice and the league, which certainly reviewed it. Still, in the eyes of the good folks in Calgary, chasing Dumba around and punching him while he was down in that game wasn’t enough punishment for that unpenalized, unsuspended hit.
So fast forward two weeks to the second meeting between these teams. Early in the game, Matthew Tkachuk essentially forced Dumba to… you know… answer the bell. Well, after reluctantly fighting Tkachuk, Dumba eventually left that game, and has been out ever since with a torn pectoral muscle, which he confirmed happened in the fight.
It’s been a while since all of this transpired, and coach Bruce Boudreau downplayed the side drama, telling the Pioneer Press, “We need to win. That’s nothing. It’s all about playing the game the right way.”
He’s right. A lot of time has passed since Tkachuk effectively ended Dumba’s season, and both teams are playing great hockey with two gigantic points on the line. Playing the game is more important than settling scores tonight, which we know can end badly anyway.
Still, one has to wonder if there might be any hatred between the squads that carries over from earlier in the season.
The Flames are having a pretty magical season under new head coach Bill Peters, and that magic has been especially… magical… of late. Calgary closed out February with a seven-game winning streak that remains intact entering tonight’s contest, taking it to a five-point lead over San Jose for first place in the Pacific Division.
It’s one of those seasons in Calgary where the stars are aligning and everyone is contributing offensively. Johnny Gaudreau has been on another planet, with 30 goals and 52 assists, offseason trade acquisition Elias Lindholm has broken out with 26 goals and 46 assists, and Sean Monahan, Tkachuk, and Giordano are each north of 60 points.
David Rittich and Mike Smith have effectively split time in net, proving yet again my theory that a good team needs a 1A/1B goalie tandem to avoid extended downturns.
At the recent NHL trade deadline, the Flames made just one very minor deal to bring in something called Oscar Fantenberg, an interesting decision for a team looking to make a deep playoff run. It did get reported, though, that the Wild and Flames had a deal in place that involved Jason Zucker, but it fell through at the last minute, adding to the interesting recent history between these teams.
Aside from all the aforementioned vitriol between these squads, it’s worth noting that the Wild have been really good since the Charlie-Coyle-for-Ryan-Donato trade took place on February 20th. Minnesota has since won four straight, with Donato playing a contributing role in all four contests. The youth movement seems to be working in its infancy (pun intended), as the kids—Jordan Greenway, Luke Kunin, Joel Eriksson Ek, and Donato—have all stepped up in a huge way.
Donato has six points in his four games and set up Zucker for the tying goal on Tuesday. Eriksson Ek scored the game winner in overtime that night as well, and Greenway and Kunin have both just been generally noticeable, with Kunin scoring a goal and an assist in the last four, and Greenway scoring two goals. Meanwhile, Kevin Fiala, who debuted against the Jets, was quiet in his first game but did have three shots and looked really good on the power play. Points will come for him as well.
The Wild remain in the last playoff spot, but level in points with Colorado, which has played one more game. This weekend’s back-to-backs with Calgary and Nashville are humongous for Minnesota’s playoff chances.
No Dumba, no Koivu. Victor Rask is still day-to-day with a lower body injury.
James Neal and Michael Stone are out for the the Flames, per Rotoworld.
The Gamethread will post at 8:30PM Central. Below are the projected lineups, thanks to DailyFaceoff.com.