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Preview: Wild hope to gain ground vs. Kings

It’s still a playoff team, but it’s an opportunity to get some points.

Minnesota Wild v Los Angeles Kings Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

May the farce be with you.

It’s Star Wars Night at The X as the Minnesota Wild host the Los Angeles Kings, and the visiting team is exactly that: A farce.

Among all teams currently in a playoff spot, only the Dallas Stars have a worse goal differential than the Kings. And among all 32 teams, the Kings have the 18th-ranked goals for percentage at 5-on-5 of 49.81 percent — at the most common game state, Los Angeles doesn’t even score the majority of the goals in games they’re involved in (the Wild are ranked fifth in this category). Even terrible teams like the New York Islanders and Vancouver Canucks score a larger share of the goals at evens. Frauds!

For all of that effort, because the Kings are in the terrible Pacific Division, they have been nice and snug in the playoff position for the majority of the season. Maybe Minnesota can contribute to knocking this weird team out of there.

On the other side of the ice this evening, the Wild are facing off against the St. Louis Blues for a two-team race that is just, at this point, jockeying for home-ice advantage in the first round. The games are coming hot and fast, so there is no real chance for head coach Dean Evason to experiment with any different line combinations; only finding new chemistry when a player is absent due to injury.

Matt Boldy is set to make his return after missing the last four games due to an upper-body injury. Jon Merrill and Matt Dumba will still be out but the former is closer to coming back than the latter.

The Wild aren’t holding a morning skate on Sunday, so it’s not certain which goaltender will be in between the pipes, but if they keep the tandem rotation, it will be Marc-Andre Fleury facing the Kings at home.

In addition to the mysterious starter, it will be interesting where Evason wants to put Boldy back in his return. A very standard assumption would be to keep the Kevin Fiala, Frederick Gaudreau, and Boldy line together, but in Boldy’s absence, Tyson Jost has been absolutely wonderful in combination with those two other players and primarily Fiala. Could we see Jost centering the two dynamic wingers? Or will Jost go back to the fourth line and kick Nick Bjugstad or Nicolas Deslauriers (who looked banged up against the Blues) out of the lineup? A lot of moving parts.

Projected lineup:

Kirill Kaprizov—Ryan Hartman—Mats Zuccarello
Matt Boldy??—Frederick Gaudreau??/Tyson Jost??—Kevin Fiala
Jordan Greenway—Joel Eriksson Ek—Marcus Foligno
Brandon Duhaime—Tyson Jost??/Frederick Gaudreau??—Nick Bjugstad??/Nicolas Deslauriers??

Jake Middleton—Jared Spurgeon
Jonas Brodin—Dmitry Kulikov
Jordie Benn—Alex Goligoski

Puck drop is at 4:00 p.m.

Burning Questions

Will Kirill Kaprizov break the franchise single-season goal record?

It’s that time of the season again. We’re on the brink of Kaprizov breaking yet another Minnesota Wild single-season record in just his second season. There are not enough words to describe what it is like finally having someone among the league’s elite talents, and now the 24-year-old gets to see his name in the franchise record books. He already broke Marian Gaborik’s point total, but now he is just one goal away from tying Gaborik and Eric Staal’s record of 42 goals in a season.

Can he score two to break the record? We know that there is a history of drama in between these two clubs — Kaprizov scored his first NHL goal as the overtime game-winner in his first ever game, after the team came back from a multi-goal deficit — so maybe we’re going to see a Kaprizov goal in regulation, and then a very dramatic goal in the extra frame to earn him the record. We’re just fantasy booking now.

Will the result be at least comfortable?

The two times the Wild have faced the Kings this season, it’s been decided by just one single goal. And while the race to earn up as many points as possible is in the final lap for this tight western playoff positioning, it would be nice just to have some sort of comfort along with the points. Maybe a nice and solid 5-2 victory, or even something like 3-1. Just comfortable. That is, of course, if they win.

If they lose, I want it to be as uncomfortable for Kings fans as possible. Having like 12 minutes of 6-on-5 hockey or some crazy shit that Big Dean-o will pull out.