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NHL Preview from The Sports Network



Sunday, March 4th (All times eastern)

Minnesota Wild (36-23-6) at Vancouver Canucks (37-22-5), 10 p.m.

(Sports Network) - First place in the competitive Northwest Division will be on the line when the Vancouver Canucks and Minnesota Wild renew their rivalry tonight at General Motors Place.

Only one point separates the third-place Wild from co-leaders Vancouver and Calgary in the heated Northwest race. Minnesota has narrowed the gap by posting victories in four of its last five games, including Thursday's 5-0 road triumph over the Edmonton Oilers.

Josh Harding stopped all 30 shots that came his way to earn his second career shutout, while Marian Gaborik and Pavol Demitra provided the offense for Minnesota. The Slovakian duo each finished with two goals and an assist in the rout.

The Wild will be playing the finale of a three-game road swing against divisional opponents, a trek which began with a 2-1 shootout loss at Calgary on Wednesday. Minnesota has had its struggles away from home this season, having compiled a 14-18-2 mark as the visitor thus far.

Minnesota could get a key player back for tonight's test, though, as No. 1 goaltender Manny Fernandez will be available for the first time since he aggravated a left knee sprain in a January 30th victory over St. Louis. The veteran netminder is 22-16-1 with a 2.57 goals-against average this season.

The Wild have been in good hands in Fernandez's absence, however, as Nicklas Backstrom has gone 8-2-1 with a 2.42 GAA in 12 starts since the injury.

Vancouver rebounded from back-to-back road defeats at Dallas and St. Louis with Thursday's 4-3 home win over Phoenix. Markus Naslund netted the deciding goal with 4:14 remaining, while Daniel Sedin scored twice in the triumph.

Jeff Cowan had the other goal for the Canucks, winners of three straight at General Motors Place, and All-Star goaltender Roberto Luongo made 21 saves.

Vancouver, which concludes this homestand with a visit from Tampa Bay on Tuesday, is an outstanding 20-9-2 on home ice for the campaign.

The Wild have won four of the six previous matchups between the divisional foes this season and came through with a 5-2 decision in their last trip to Vancouver, back on January 11. The Canucks countered with a 3-2 overtime win when the clubs met in Minnesota last month.

Eight of the last 11 games in this series have been decided by one goal.

03/04 10:53:42 ET


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