Prior to demolishing the Detroit Red Wings on the road Thursday night, the Minnesota Wild took down the Columbus Blue Jackets in a thrilling 5-4 affair on home ice the day after the trade deadline. Now, the Wild have a chance to sweep the season series against their Eastern Conference foe.
In Tuesday night’s tilt with the Blue Jackets, Wild captain Mikko Koivu put together one of his best performances of the season. For the first time since January 5 of 2017, he netted a pair of goals in a single game and, per usual, did an excellent job of keeping the opposition from earning quality chances — the Wild led Columbus 7-1 in high-danger scoring chances when Koivu was on the ice at 5-on-5. He will need to put together another strong performance Friday night against a rested Columbus team that has been off since its trip to St. Paul.
However, while the Blue Jackets enter Friday night’s tilt rested, they remain quite wounded. Columbus has lost several of its best players to injuries, including Seth Jones, Cam Atkinson and Oliver Bjorkstrand. Impressively, the Jackets remain in contention for a playoff spot in the Eastern Conference, though they have been slipping recently. They’re 1-4-5 in their last 10 games, which, of course, is quite bad!
The Wild, on the other hand, are 6-3-1 in their last 10 and remain relatively healthy. Only forward Luke Kunin and defenseman Carson Soucy are missing from the lineup, and both are expected to return before the end of the regular season — Kunin is already partaking in morning skates, which is obviously an excellent sign.
Minnesota is lucky to have most of its troops in good health at this time of the year. With a very nice 69 points on the season, the Wild sit just three points behind the Nashville Predators for the second wild card spot in the West. A win against Columbus, followed by a win against the Washington Capitals on Sunday, could put the Wild in playoff position.
But for now, they just need to focus on Columbus.
1. Can Koivu keep the hot streak going?
Koivu has been phenomenal since the passing of the trade deadline. Not only did he record a two-goal performance against the Blue Jackets on Tuesday, but he also earned a pair of helpers Thursday night on the road against Detroit. He hasn’t been scoring much this season, but another big performance from him would be huge, to say the least.
2. Will Dubnyk give the Wild a chance to win?
Alex Stalock got the start against the Red Wings on Thursday, so it’s more than likely that Devan Dubnyk will man the crease against Columbus. There’s not much to say about Dubnyk’s play that hasn’t already been said a million times this season — he has not been good. But tonight’s game could be a big one for a Wild team desperate for points. He will need to be on his A game.
3. Will the Wild show fatigue in the second half of their back-to-back?
It’s never easy playing hockey on consecutive nights, but that’s the hand the Wild have been dealt. The Blue Jackets have been off since Tuesday’s contest in Minnesota, so they will be rested and hungry for revenge. The Wild may look a tad slow in this one (more so than usual), which is why it will be doubly important that they get some good goaltending work from Dubnyk.