Wild-Maple Leafs Preview
The back-and-forth dynamic of Minnesota's season is again taking a positive swing, and competition on a two-game trip against the worst teams in the Eastern Conference could allow it to grow more significant.
The Wild visit Toronto on Thursday night, and the Maple Leafs are beginning a four-game homestand with a three-game losing streak weighing them down.
Minnesota (29-25-10), which finishes the trip in Buffalo on Saturday, defeated Colorado 6-3 Tuesday to string together consecutive wins after a three-game skid. That followed a four-game winning streak after losing eight in a row.
The win over the Avalanche lifted the Wild back into the West's final playoff spot.
"We're in a spot where if we win our games, we're going to be there," goaltender Devan Dubnyk told the team's official website. "It certainly didn't feel that way with the stretch we went on. We've got 18 games now to control our own destiny and that's a spot we're happy to be in."
Nino Niederreiter had two goals and an assist, giving the 23-year-old five goals and four assists in his last nine games. Charlie Coyle scored twice and has 11 of his 21 goals in the last 18 games. Jason Pominville scored for the second straight game and had two assists, giving him five goals and seven assists in his last eight games.
That group could have some added company with Jonas Brodin and Jason Zucker targeting returns from injury, and David Jones could debut after being traded from Calgary at Monday's deadline. Brodin has been sidelined for 13 games because of a broken foot, and Zucker has missed the last five with a concussion.
"We definitely want to stay healthy, and it's going to be competitive getting in the lineup now," interim coach John Torchetti said. "Certain guys are playing well, and you have to work to stay in there, and other guys have to wait their turn to get in.
"I like the way we're playing, and as we go along, we'll pick and choose who we feel fits in certain spots, and gets the opportunity."
The Wild beat the Maple Leafs 1-0 on Dec. 3 to extend their winning streak in the series to four games, a stretch in which Toronto has scored only three times.
The Maple Leafs (21-31-10) fell 3-2 in Washington on Wednesday and have scored four goals on their latest three-game slide with points leader Leo Komarov going without one in his last five. It's been no better on the other end with the Maple Leafs giving up an average of 3.83 goals over a 2-9-1 span.
After the latest loss, coach Mike Babcock issued something of an indirect warning to his young roster.
"I thought some of us were pretty good, and some of us got to compete harder," Babcock said. "If you're not going to compete, it doesn't matter how much skill you have, you're not going to play in the National Hockey League very long."
Jonathan Bernier faced the Capitals, so Garrett Sparks could be in goal to complete the back-to-back set. The rookie Sparks, who returned from AHL Toronto for Monday's 2-1 loss to Tampa Bay after James Reimer was traded to San Jose, hasn't allowed more than two goals in his last four NHL starts.
Dubnyk has won his two games against Toronto since joining the Wild with one goal allowed on 64 shots, including the shutout in December.
Coyle had an assist in that contest and has five points in four career games against the Maple Leafs.