The Minnesota Wild (24-16-3) head to The Tank to face the San Jose Sharks (23-13-7) this evening. This is the second game of a four-game homestand for the Sharks that includes their final game at home next Tuesday. This game is also the end of a brief three-game road swing for the Wild.
Minnesota has won the first two games of their road trip and are going for the sweep tonight in San Jose. However, this will be a tough task, because they are playing the best team in the league at home. The Sharks’ record sits at 15-1-5 within the friendly confines of HP Pavilion, and they will need to win tonight. If the Wild can beat San Jose in regulation tonight, they would take over the fifth seed in the playoffs.
With their win in Los Angeles a couple days ago, the Sharks gave themselves a good cushion and are in the driver’s seat. With Detroit losing and Columbus winning last night, the Blue Jackets pulled into the eighth spot in the conference and are two points ahead of the Red Wings who have 47. That means the Sharks, with 53 points, are six points clear of being out of the playoffs.
They will be defending their position in the standings tonight while also keeping an eye on the Columbus versus Kings game. If the Kings were to lose the Sharks would have an opportunity to get into fourth.
Tonight Antti Niemi will have to face a team that has four guys with 10+ goals this season, two of which were his former teammates. Topping that list and leading the Wild in total points is winger Zach Parise. He has 16 goals and 19 assists for 35 points so far this season. Right behind him is centerman Mikko Koivu, who has 10 goals and 24 assists for a total of 34 total points. Defenseman Ryan Suter leads the team in assists with 28 on the season to go along with four goals.
For the Sharks, the emergence of T.J. Galiardi has been a great sight because he is finally living up to his potential as a possible top six forward. He has been playing with tenacity and has been all over the ice. As a result, he is being rewarded by getting playing time on the top line with Brent Burns and Joe Thornton. They were clearly the best line against the Kings last game, and the forechecking duo of Galiardi and Burns wreaked havoc on their defense all night. I look forward to seeing that again tonight.
Also, in a strange turn of events in that game against the Kings, I found myself cheering for Raffi Torres when he scored the game-winning goal in the shootout. Yes, I felt dirty at first, but then I got over it. It will take a while to get used to it though.
He has played pretty well with the team and has fit in nicely with his linemates on a very potent third line. I had questioned McLellan’s choice for using Torres in the shootout but I was quieted quickly after the goal. Perhaps it was to jump start Torres a little bit and get his offense going. Whatever the reason, it worked.
Expect another chippy game tonight after the last one between these two teams was anything but friendly. As such, I am expecting a big game for Torres who thrives in that kind of environment. Here’s hoping I am right.