January 01, 2015

Beating the defending Stanley Cup champions to snap out of a slump is all well and good for Minnesota coach Mike Yeo, but he knows it won't mean much if the Wild revert back to old habits.

They'll look to avoid a fourth straight home loss when they face the struggling Toronto Maple Leafs on Thursday night.

Minnesota (12-7-4) slogged through a 1-4-2 stretch that included dropping the final three of a four-game homestand before heading off to Chicago on Tuesday.

Yeo openly criticized his team's play during that rough patch, but he came away feeling much better after Ryan Suter punched home a rebound with less than eight minutes left in the third period to give the Wild a 2-1 win over the Blackhawks.

"We hadn't played well, hadn't played consistent in a long time, and we finally put a game together," Suter said. "Finally, we got everybody moving in the right direction."

Jason Pominville scored in the first for Minnesota, which now looks to pick up two points on home ice. The Wild started 8-1-0 at Xcel Energy Center before the current slump and caps a stretch of playing six of seven at home Saturday against Colorado.

"I think more importantly than anything else is, let's build on it," Yeo said. "We played a good game, got a good result, now what do we do with it?"

They're hoping the defensive showing against Chicago carries over. The Wild allowed at least three goals in seven of their previous nine, and opponents are putting an average of 29.6 shots on net per game.

Minnesota received a boost Tuesday when defenseman Marco Scandella returned after missing five games with a lower-body injury.

"It definitely starts in our own end and being tight defensively," center Charlie Coyle said. "From there, some teams get kind of discouraged, and we keep them to the outside, and then we'll catch them."

Toronto (8-12-5) could stand to play better defensively as well. The Leafs are amid a 1-3-1 stretch and have given up at least four goals in three of their last four.

One of the few positives came Monday when Garret Sparks made 24 saves in a 3-0 win over Edmonton to become the first in franchise history to post a shutout in his NHL debut.

Sparks wasn't nearly as good Tuesday while suffering a 6-1 loss to Winnipeg. He took much of the blame for the defeat, something coach Mike Babcock said wasn't necessary.

"He shouldn't have taken ownership," Babcock said. "I thought we were set up really good going into the third period down 2-1. We came out and dominated the first shift of the third and then we made enough mistakes to make the goalie take ownership for no reason."

Sparks was called up from the minors to replace Jonathan Bernier, who is 0-8-1 with a 3.28 goals-against average this season. Bernier was sent to the AHL for a 10-day conditioning stint to hopefully get back into form.

James Reimer is expected to start against the Wild, who have won the last three meetings. Reimer is 4-1-1 with a 1.45 GAA since Nov. 12 and has won both of his career starts against Minnesota, stopping 65 of 66 shots.

Devan Dubnyk is likely to get the nod for the Wild. He made 34 saves to beat the Leafs 2-1 in the most recent meeting March 23.

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