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Maybe hockey will help with the Vikings pain? The Wild hosts the Senators tonight

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After an impressive victory on Saturday, Minnesota needs to take advantage of a struggling Ottawa team.

NHL: DEC 19 Wild at Senators Photo by Richard A. Whittaker/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

MINNESOTA WILD VS OTTAWA SENATORS

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

TV: Fox Sports-North

Radio: KFAN 100.3 and affiliates

Streaming: Fox Sports Go app

Don’t worry, Minnesota sports fans… at least we have the Wild! [Looks around for anyone interested in giving a high five, eventually realizes the inappropriate timing of the statement.]

Look, I know the Vikings lost in ugly fashion yesterday, once again dashing our hopes of a championship with an absolute dud of an effort in Philadelphia. As I said to a friend while watching that game from a sad, lonely pit of infinite misery, “This is where I belong. As a Minnesota sports fan, I feel most comfortable down 31-7 in the third quarter of the NFC Championship game.”

But you know something? The sun came up today. Now, we move on to the next one. We flip over the next stone, expecting the worst while hoping for the best. Over the course of the next decade and beyond, we’ll probably continue to find the worst under every stone, but let’s just keep turning them over, and eventually… I swear… eventually ... we’ll find something good under one of those God forsaken stones of Minnesota sports suckdom.

I swear we’ll talk some hockey in this to hopefully help you get your head screwed back on straight, but before we do that, I’ll give you these last two football-related bits… At the end of the day, we aren’t from Philadelphia, so we have that to hang our collective hat on. Also, one Eagles fan had this happen yesterday…

Feel better yet? No? Ok…

WILD VS SENATORS! TONIGHT! 7PM! GET EXCITED!

OTTAWA SENATORS

The Senators continue to stink this season. We saw their level of stinkiness during Minnesota’s road trip before the Christmas holiday, when the Wild battled back from a 3-1 deficit to eventually earn a 6-4 win as its only victory of the four-game excursion.

Ottawa has sunk to third-to-last place in the NHL, ahead of only the Buffalo Sabres and Arizona Coyotes. Having lost three out of its last four—including two straight home losses—the team is showing no indications that it plans to get back into contention. After driving all the way to the Eastern Conference Final last season, the Senators look like they could be headed for the draft lottery when the current campaign concludes.

The Senators have a really hard time playing in the second period, where they have amassed a minus 26 goal differential on the season. After GM Pierre Dorion addressed the team in a “tense” meeting on Friday to discuss the many issues surrounding his club, Ottawa looked like it had finally figured things out the following night against Toronto. In the second period of that game Saturday, the Sens actually pushed the pace in the second stanza, scoring three goals and carrying a two-goal lead into the third. But instead of a second-period collapse, Ottawa pulled a Wild-esque move and fell apart in the third, giving the three goals right back to Toronto and falling 4-3. Not great.

Things have been generally uncomfortable all season in Ottawa, where the owner has threatened relocation, superstar defenseman Erik Karlsson has been mentioned in trade rumors, and the blockbuster deal that brought in Matt Duchene and jettisoned Kyle Turris simply hasn’t turned the tables the way that Dorion hoped it would. Making matters worse, the Senators have a number of players dealing with minor injuries, including defenseman Johnny Oduya and top scorer Mark Stone, who went knee-first into the endboards on Saturday.

Get through Coach Guy Boucher’s neutral zone trap and keep Karlsson and the dinged-up Stone off the scoresheet tonight, and Minnesota will have a very good chance to pick up its seventeenth home win

STORYLINES

The most notable bit of Wild news from the past 48 hours is that Mikael Granlund missed yesterday’s practice, apparently with an illness. If he isn’t able to go tonight, we’ll see Chris Stewart slide back in, after the big winger was scratched Saturday in favor of Iowa call-up Kyle Rau. Bruce Boudreau said before Minnesota’s 5-2 win over the Lightning that the decision to bring up Rau was an attempt to get more speed into the lineup. Rau had an assist in his Wild debut and performed well on a line with Charlie Coyle and Joel Eriksson Ek. With that forward group, Minnesota looked great in general despite playing its first game after the bye, so if Granlund can go, I’d have to guess that Stewart again finds himself in the pressbox.

It’s been mentioned here a few times that we badly need the goal-scoring version of Jason Zucker to be hanging around for Minnesota to be successful. It does look like the speedy, constantly mohawking winger has returned to that form, as Zucker now has goals in three straight games and six points in the last six. His most recent tally came with an empty net, but Zucker was arguably the best player on the ice for a lot of the game against one of the NHL’s best teams. That ENG to seal the deal for the Wild should still serve as a nice confidence booster for Zucker, after he “promised” Anthony LaPanta a goal, as was stated on the FSN broadcast. Zucker looks like he’s ready to go on an offensive tear.

Speaking of guys that we need to have going offensively, Zach Parise potted his first marker of the season Saturday, deflecting a Ryan Suter point shot behind Andrei Vasilevskiy. It was a “right place at the right time” kind of a goal, as it may have gone in even if Parise hadn’t gotten his stick on it, but again, it’s something for Parise to build on. He has looked far better than I anticipated since returning from a debilitating back injury that kept him out of the lineup for the first three months of the season. Parise has been his old self, grinding it out in the corners, taking nasty shots from defenders in front of the net, and battling for space everywhere on the ice. I still believe he is the Wild’s best player when healthy, and the team badly needs its $98 million man scoring if it’s going to go on the run necessary to get into the playoffs this season. A goal on HDM is a great way to get things started.

On the topic of “going on a run,” things are bleak right now in Minnesota’s playoff picture. Though the Wild is still very much in the conversation and on the bubble, every team in the Central Division—save for maybe the Blackhawks (of all teams)—is hot. The Wild just can’t afford to lose against beatable opponents for the rest of the season, and will need to go on a significant streak at some point in the second half if it ever wants to get off the bubble and solidify a spot in the postseason.

INJURIES

No update on Nino Niederreiter, who is expected to be out at least through the All-Star break. Granlund is questionable due to illness. Tyler Ennis went through concussion protocol last game after admiring his own pass and getting clobbered, but returned to the game.

Stone and Oduya are both expected to play for Ottawa. Jean-Gabriel Pageau and Nate Thompson are both day-to-day, per Rotoworld.

The Gamethread will post at 6:30PM. Here are the projected lineups, thanks to DailyFaceoff.com. Thanks for reading!