Afternoon from beautiful Raleigh, where the sun is out and the air is crisp.
I'll be on KFAN at 4:30 p.m. CT.
Wild, an NHL-best 17-3-2 in the Devan Dubnyk era and an NHL-best 15 wins and 31 points in 18 games since the All-Star break (15-2-1), faces the Carolina Hurricanes tonight in the parking lot of North Carolina State's football stadium.
Canes have won three of their past four and have been playing well since New Year's.
The Wild, winners of seven of its past eight overall, is an NHL-best 9-1-2 on the road since Dubnyk came to save the day and has won five straight on the road.
"If we don't respect these guys tonight, then it will be an awfully frustrating game," coach Mike Yeo said of the Canes.
Dubnyk will make his 23rd consecutive start tonight. He is 17-3-1 with the Wild with a 1.63 goals-against average and .939 save percentage, allowing a league-low 35 goals in the past 22 games (1.59 per game). Again, consider this: The Wild allowed 58 goals in the 14 games before he arrived (4.14 goals per game).
FIFTY-EIGHT GOALS IN FOURTEEN GAMES COMPARED TO THIRTY-FIVE GOALS IN TWENTY-TWO!
I thought I would amplify that.
Wild was 45 seconds from having a five-point lead in 9th today until Marian Gaborik forced overtime for the L.A. Kings and they won in a shootout.
Now, Wild still has a three-point lead, is one over Winnipeg and four from Chicago for third in the Central. If the Wild's not careful, it'll play itself right into a first-round series with St. Louis.
(I'm crying purely for selfish, travel-related reasons).
Tonight is the Wild's game in hand on the Jets, so if it can win, it would be three points up. Quite the accomplishment considering Minnesota was 14 back of the Jets on Jan. 27 and seven points behind eighth.
Why not rest Dubnyk and start Darcy Kuemper for the first time since Jan. 6?
"Number of reasons," Yeo said. "We look at this game as an extremely important game for us and we're treating it as such. You can talk about maybe resting or keeping an eye on games maybe two, three weeks from now, but those games don't mean a lot unless we win games right now.
"Part of the other reasoning is no skate this morning, no skate for the guys tomorrow with a mandatory day off and probably no morning skate on Sunday [because of a 5 p.m. game against Colorado]. Given that, I think in a lot of ways, it's important for him to almost have this game to keep sharp. And also, we only gave up 25 shots last night [in Washington]. So I don't think he should be too tired."
Jared Spurgeon (concussion) and Nino Niederreiter (lower body) skated this morning in a very optional skate. I'd guess Spurgeon won't play, but we'll see about Niederreiter. And if Niederreiter plays, we'll see who comes out because Jordan Schroeder was good last night with four shots.
Maybe Sean Bergenheim? Maybe a member of the fourth line, although I thought again last night that Erik Haula-Kyle Brodziak-Justin Fontaine looked good and they're all penalty killers and the Canes' power play ranks sixth in the NHL in 2015.
No. 1 ranked (Carolina) vs. No. 2 ranked (Minnesota) penalty kills tonight. Wild's power play is 1 for 19 the past 10 games. Yeo indicated the power play is the only thing about the Wild's game he doesn't like right now.
Looks like former Wild Anton Khudobin is starting for Carolina. The Wild shellacked him a few weeks ago in a 6-3 win.