Wild return from break to battle Oilers
(SportsNetwork.com) - The Minnesota Wild hope to maintain a firm grasp on a playoff spot as they visit the Edmonton Oilers on Thursday night, when both clubs return to action following the Olympic break.
The Wild come out of the hiatus a distant 10 points behind the Colorado Avalanche for third place in the Central Division, but with a five-point edge for one of the two wild card spots in the Western Conference.
Minnesota won its final two games before the Olympic break and is 4-1-2 in its last seven games.
While Zach Parise and Ryan Suter return from a disappointing showing by Team USA in Sochi, Russia, Mikael Granlund had a solid performance to help Finland win bronze.
Granlund, who turned 22 on Wednesday, had three goals and seven points during the Olympics, getting named to the All-Tournament team.
"You can tell that they've been playing at a high speed over there, and I expect them to step right in where they left off," Wild coach Mike Yeo told his team's website of his three Olympians.
Minnesota is looking to get healthy for the stretch run and is close to getting forward Mikko Koivu back from a right ankle injury that required surgery. He suffered a break blocking a shot on Jan. 4 and was unable to play for Team Finland.
Koivu may return tonight or Friday versus the Vancouver Canucks.
Goaltender Niklas Backstrom, meanwhile, has been out since Jan. 30 because of a strained abdominal, but could suit up tonight. If not, John Curry would serve as the backup to Darcy Kuemper.
Backstrom is 25-4-1 with a 1.91 goals against average and four shutouts in his career versus the Oilers, while Kuemper has faced them once before. That came this season, a 4-1 home victory on Jan. 16 in which he made 20 saves.
Minnesota has won five of six and 14 of its last 17 versus the Oilers, including two straight and seven of eight in Edmonton.
With the playoffs about out of reach, the Oilers are looking to finish strong ahead of next season. They are last in the Western Conference with 47 points, 18 out of a playoff spot and five ahead of Buffalo for the fewest in the NHL.
Edmonton did win five of seven before the break and kick off a five-game homestand tonight.
One thing to watch for the Oilers is the situation in net, where the clubs have a pair of upcoming free agents in Ilya Bryzgalov and Ben Scrivens. Bryzgalov signed with Edmonton during the season, while Scrivens was acquired in a trade with the Los Angeles Kings.
Head coach Dallas Eakins is looking for both to play well and is unsure of how the starts will be split between the two.
"It's hard to say. I don't have a crystal ball next to me so it'll depend on their play," said Eakins. "It may come down to if Ben plays well and Bryz is playing well, yeah we may give Ben a couple of extra starts. I think Bryz would understand that. Or, we might split it down the middle. I won't know until we get started here."
Bryzgalov is 7-8-0 with a 2.64 GAA in his career versus the Wild, while Scrivens faced Minnesota for the first time in his career when he made his Oilers debut on Jan. 16 . He took that 4-1 loss, giving up four goals on 33 shots.
02/27 11:06:39 ET