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Preview: Wild face Leafs in league’s best battle

The NHL’s two hottest teams are going to determine who’s better (for now) tonight.

Arizona Coyotes v Minnesota Wild Photo by Bruce Kluckhohn/NHLI via Getty Images

The Minnesota Wild added another tally to their win streak, with a fifth-straight win coming Thursday night when they toppled the New Jersey Devils, 4-2. Tonight’s matchup against the Toronto Maple Leafs is the last game in a five-game homestand.

The Leafs are also going into Saturday with a five-game winning streak, in which they’ve outscored their opponents 26-7. In November, they had a 12-2-0 record, the most wins and points in a calendar month for the franchise ever.

Minnesota and Toronto have not met yet this season, their last faceoff at Xcel Energy on Dec. 31, 2019.

Despite their fans’ rampant cynicism, the Leafs are currently tied for first in the league with the Florida Panthers, both at 35 points. Jack Campbell has proved himself as starting goaltender, earning second-star recognition for his performance last month, leading the league’s goalies in wins (9) and shutouts (3).

The usual suspects, John Tavares, Auston Matthews, and Mitch Marner, lead their team in points, goals, and assists respectively, with William Nylander in the top three in all three categories as well.

According to TSN’s Mark Masters, Marner collided with a teammate during a drill Friday and left practice for what Head Coach Sheldon Keefe called “precautionary” reasons, but will travel and is expected to play. Defenseman Morgan Rielly was also absent from yesterday’s practice, but presumed to be in the lineup tonight.

A surprisingly successful addition to their roster came this season in Michael Bunting, who spent last season going between the Arizona Coyotes and their AHL affiliate. This season, Bunting has 17 points in 24 games.

For the Wild, Kirill Kaprizov and Ryan Hartman have continued to impress and lead the team in points. Both players are coming off of three-point nights against the Devils. Kaprizov will suit up for his first ever game against the Leafs tonight.

Captain Jared Spurgeon has already been confirmed out of the line up with his Nov. 20 lower body injury. However, Wild fans can expect him to be back in action sooner rather than later, with The Athletic’s Michael Russo tweeting out an update on the team leader mid-day Friday:

This matchup is certainly going to be a battle to continue momentum, the Wild facing their biggest challenge yet on this homestand and win streak. A win against Toronto would tie them with the Leafs for most (or second most, depending on Florida) points in the league.

This is a chance for the Wild to show they can play against a fast, high-scoring opponent. I wouldn’t miss this one if I were you.

Burning Questions

What happens when two previously mediocre teams face off while on hot streaks?

Someone’s streak has to end tonight, but I’m not sure who has the edge going in. The Leafs have some beat up players, but are implementing load management and still very much a threat. The Wild are without a top defenseman in Spurgeon, but have managed spectacularly without him.

All I know is, both fan bases won’t be happy with a loss. It’ll be a true battle between Minnesotan passive aggressiveness and Torontonian pessimism after the final horn.

Can they stop the Tavares-Matthews-Nylander line?

Maybe. They’ve got to work with the defense they have, which includes forwards helping out on the backend. Minimizing odd man rushes will limit dangerous situations with Matthews’ line, but not eliminate them completely.

Will they be able to get enough goals past Campbell to win?

The Wild have scored four or more goals in their last four games, which would seemingly answer this question. But, with the high-scoring Leafs in front of their star goaltender, the Wild are going to have get shots on net and not try anything too fancy. They’ve succeeded at this recently, but the Leafs are a new beast to conquer.