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Skol Wild! Minnesota has a chance to roll into the bye week on an impressive upswing

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The struggling Canucks are in St. Paul. A win by the Wild would give the team seven out of eight possible points before going idle for five days.

Vancouver Canucks v Minnesota Wild Photo by Bruce Kluckhohn/NHLI via Getty Images

MINNESOTA WILD VS VANCOUVER CANUCKS

7:00PM Central, Xcel Energy Center, St. Paul, Minnesota

TV: Fox Sports-North

Radio: KOOL 108.1

Streaming: Fox Sports Go app, NHL.tv (free game)

SKOL! …………………….. SKOL! …………… SKOL! …………SKOL! ………. SKOL! ….. SKOL! … SKOL! .. SKOL! . SKOL! SKOL! SKOL! SKOL! [AaaarrRROOOO!]

On a day that will hopefully be ruled by the Wild’s football counterparts in Minneapolis, an important hockey game quietly awaits in St. Paul. That game—against the Vancouver Canucks—is the last that the Wild will play before its CBA-mandated bye week kicks in, when it will sit idly and watch several of its divisional foes rack up points.

The Wild has actually made impressive progress this week, having leapfrogged both the Blackhawks and Stars. It has accomplished this by taking five out of a possible six points from Calgary, Chicago, and the Winnipeg Jets, which Minnesota downed (Jet pun) in convincing fashion yesterday. The Wild has also temporarily closed the gap with the third-place Blues, which lost three games in a row prior to going into its own bye week. St. Louis remains idle until Tuesday, so another win today would put Minnesota just one point out of that crucial third spot in the Central standings. From top to bottom, the division is becoming more and more compressed, so the rest of this season is sure to be a doozy as teams vie for playoff position.

Minnesota’s 4-1 victory yesterday over first-place Winnipeg was one of the team’s more remarkable wins of the season. It came out flying in the first period, controlling the puck for almost the entire frame and peppering Connor Hellebuyck with 23 shots. The game did remain close on the scoreboard until the third period, but it’s always a good sign to see the Wild win games while looking like the better team throughout, and that was absolutely the case yesterday.

Come on, now, Wild (and Vikings), turn this good weekend into a great weekend!

VANCOUVER CANUCKS

Another season in Vancouver looks to be headed for a poor finish by the Canucks, who appear destined to miss the playoffs for a third consecutive year. Vancouver actually enjoyed some early-season success under first-year Head Coach Travis Green, but that triumphant start was quickly derailed by injuries. Now standing with just 40 points, Vancouver has fallen into the realm of some of the league’s worst teams.

BUT! As you may have heard, there’s a young man currently playing on the team (which the Wild could have drafted, but instead selected Joel Eriksson Ek), from Burnsville, Minnesota. This individual has burst onto the NHL scene, making the All-Star Game as a 20-year-old rookie and setting the Vancouver franchise record for fastest player to score 25 career goals. After debuting in March of last season in his home state against the Wild, and scoring his first career goal that day, Brock Boeser continues building on his incredible story this season. Boeser scored in eight of Vancouver’s thirteen games in December, but his astonishing pace has slowed a bit, as he so far has one goal in five games in January. Still, this kid is a magical player, and has represented a glimmer of hope for fans of the Canuckleheads.

22-year-old Bo Horvat, who earned an invitation to last year’s All-Star Game, represents the other glimmer of hope in Vancouver. Horvat normally centers Boeser’s top line, and was a huge part of the Canucks’ impressive first month of the season. Horvat, though, fractured his foot on December 5th, and is still expected to be out another couple of weeks, per Rotoworld. It is no coincidence that Vancouver has struggled in his absence.

Despite this franchise’s woes, it has given the Wild some trouble over the past couple of seasons. The Canucks went 2-1 against Minnesota last year and also beat the Wild 1-0 in an atrocious game at Xcel Energy Center in November.

Vancouver won its last game Friday in Columbus, but had lost five in a row leading up to that. The Canucks also begin their bye week after tonight’s game.

STORYLINES

Could Jason Zucker be back? The Hot Rod had been in a horrific slump, scoring just one goal in sixteen games leading up to his tally yesterday against the Jets. When scorers are going through droughts like that, they tend to snap out of it when you see them getting a lot of good chances, despite repeatedly getting stuffed by opposing goaltenders or missing the target. That’s what we had witnessed from Zucker over the past several games, as he seemed to have the puck on his stick in good scoring position almost constantly, but just—for whatever reason—couldn’t find the back of the net. A goal for a player who had been struggling as mightily as Zucker had should act as an enormous confidence booster, so let’s see if the floodgates once again open for Minnesota’s third-leading scorer. Remember, he once had eight goals in five games for the Wild earlier this season, so he’s very capable of scoring in bunches.

Matt Dumba is easily having his best season as a member of the Wild. No longer paired with Ryan Suter, many in the Wilderness thought that his play would once again regress after Bruce Boudreau moved Jared Spurgeon back to the top pairing. But with Jonas Brodin—who has also been playing quite well—Dumba has continued bringing a good two-way game, making mostly responsible decisions in the defensive zone, while regularly unleashing his massive clapper at the other end. Two Dumb-bombs eluded Hellebuyck yesterday, giving the Wild defenseman his second two-goal performance of the season and nine markers on the year.

I guessed in yesterday’s Preview that Boudreau could turn to Devan Dubnyk for both of these back-to-back games, being that the Wild netminder will have five days to recuperate. After he stopped 32 of 33 shots last night and made one of the best diving poke checks you’ll ever see to thwart a Joel Armia breakaway, it sounds like I could be right. The potential wrench in this plan, though, is that Dubnyk’s wife is apparently due to give birth to the couple’s third child at any moment now. Timing this out so that the baby is born on bye week would be quite an impressive feat for Dubnyk, so I might advise other Wild players to take note of how he scheduled this for future reference.

INJURIES

The expectation for Nino Niederreiter’s foot/ankle injury has been that he’d return after the bye, so hopefully this is the last game he’ll miss.

In addition to Horvat, depth center Brandon Sutter has been out since November 24th with a groin injury, but may return today. Derek Dorsett was sadly forced to retire earlier this season due to a series of neck injuries that endangered his long-term health.

The Gamethread will post at 6:30PM Central, so swing on by after the Vikings beat the Saints! [AaaarrRROOOO!] Below are the projected lineups, thanks to DailyFaceoff.com.