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Preview: Wild return home to take on Blues

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Last game before the trade deadline.

St. Louis Blues v Minnesota Wild Photo by Bruce Kluckhohn/NHLI via Getty Images

After a successful dads’ trip, the Minnesota Wild return to St. Paul Sunday night to take on the St. Louis Blues in what could wind up being a pretty important game. It’s Minnesota’s last game before Monday’s trade deadline, and the team’s performance could greatly influence general manager Bill Guerin’s plans over the following 24 hours. With a win on home ice, perhaps Guerin will opt not to make any significant changes at the deadline as the team continues to make a last-second push for a playoff spot.

Beating St. Louis will be no easy task, though. The Blues are the best team in the Western Conference, and they’ve already beaten the Wild in both of their previous meetings earlier in the season. Despite missing Alex Pietrangelo and Tyler Bozak (not to mention Vladimir Tarasenko, who hasn’t played a game since October), the Blues clobbered a very good Dallas Stars team Friday night on the road.

The Wild will already have their hands full at 5-on-5 against St. Louis, but they’ll also need to be doubly sure not to take an excessive amount of penalties Sunday night. The Blues currently have the fourth-ranked power play in the NHL, and even though they haven’t converted on the power play in over a week, the Wild cannot afford to play with fire against such a dangerous St. Louis PP.

The Wild will be missing two of their better young players Sunday night as Carson Soucy and Luke Kunin will both be out due to upper-body injuries. The Wild recalled Gerald Mayhew and Louie Belpedio from Iowa to fill in, but barring some sort of trade, they will not play against St. Louis.

Remarkably, the Wild sit just four points out of a playoff spot. Minnesota has three games in hand on the Winnipeg Jets, who occupy the second wild card spot in the West. As utterly insane as it sounds, Minnesota’s playoff hopes are very much alive. But without a win at home against the Blues, the odds of them actually getting over the hump aren’t great.

Burning Questions

1. How will Dubnyk perform?

This seems to be the big question every time Devan Dubnyk starts a game in net. The veteran goaltender has been wildly inconsistent this season, and it’s easily been his worst campaign in his six years as a member of the Wild. Dubnyk put together a solid performance Wednesday night against the Vancouver Canucks, but can he keep the momentum going with another good performance against the Blues?

2. Will Fiala dazzle again?

Kevin Fiala has been very good — really since the start of November. But his play has been particularly strong throughout the month of February. In his last nine games, Fiala has collected seven goals and five assists while getting a ton of ice time at both 5-on-5 and on the power play. He’s coming off yet another strong performance against the Edmonton Oilers, and the Wild will need him to continue the solid play against St. Louis.

3. Will this be the night Staal finally gets back on the scoresheet?

It’s been a while since Eric Staal last found the back of the net — 32 days to be exact. Staal has yet to score a goal since returning from the All-Star Game, and he’s only managed four points (all assists) in his last 10 games. The veteran centerman is badly in need of a big performance, and what better time to do that than against the Blues the night before the trade deadline?