Big opportunity for the Wild to land on the U.S. and Canadian sports stage tonight when it looks to hand the Chicago Blackhawks their first regulation loss of the season.
The record 22 (19-0-3) consecutive games to open a season with a point (28 straight games with a point dating to last March) has drawn reporters from ESPN, TSN, Sports Illustrated, Wall Street Journal and even LaPresse in Montreal. Tons of reporters and cameras were here this morning, but that actually is common in Chicago.
Here is Joel Quenneville's press scrum
I'll be on Fox Sports North tonight during Wild Live and the first intermission. Please read Kent Youngblood's coverage on the streak at www.startribune.com/wild
"This thing has kind of taken a mind of its own as we've won a lot of games here," Patrick Kane said after today's morning skate. "There's been a lot of attention nationally, in North America and definitely in the organization. It's one of those things where you don't really expect it to happen, but when it does, you want to keep continuing it. We're at the point right now where it's almost like we don't want to lose just because that streak's still alive."
Twelve of Chicago's wins are one-goal wins, with seven coming in overtime or shootout ("We've had a couple close calls," said Quenneville). Fifteen of the Blackhawks' 22 games have been one-goal games. The Wild was the first team to put a blemish on the Hawks' record this year, snapping their six-game winning streak to open the year with a 3-2 shootout loss on Jan. 30 in St. Paul.
If the season ended at this very moment, the Wild would play Chicago in the first round!
7:43 p.m. puck drop as opposed to 7:38 because the great Marian Hossa will be honored for playing his 1,000th game Sunday. He'll be presented with the silver stick and a painting from GM Stan Bowman.
Dave Bolland returns tonight after missing five games with an upper body injury. Corey Crawford starts for Chicago, while Niklas Backstrom starts for the Wild.
Cal Clutterbuck will miss his sixth game with a thigh injury.
Wild will go with the same lineup and same lines as its last two wins in Phoenix and at home against Edmonton:
Same power-play units tonight, meaning no Pierre-Marc Bouchard, who hasn't played well on the power play. Kyle Brodziak will continue on the No. 1 unit because of his net-front presence role and the right shot. It's all situation and role right now and the need for a right shot, which is why Jason Zucker isn't out there. As you know, I've been pushing for that, but be patient, it'll come.
Jonas Brodin will be on the No. 2 unit.
I talked to Kane about his slow shootout moves, the one he used to beat Detroit the other night, and the one he used against Backstrom last year. He liked the Minnesota move better. Backstrom did stop him on the same move earlier this year. I'll write about that in tomorrrow's paper.
I also talked to Chuck Fletcher about the trade deadline and how hard trades will be this year. The deadline is a month from tomorrow. and everybody's jammed pack in the standings, so it's hard to figure out who's buying and who's selling.
By the way, the Wild is contemplating flipping Darcy Kuemper and Matt Hackett soon. Hackett is playing much better than he was at the time of the Kuemper callup and also the Wild doesn't want Kuemper getting stale. They want him playing. So to reward Hackett and to get Kuemper playing, that could be a move on the horizon.
Lastly, I know professional athletes do cool things all the time without wanting accolades, but I've gotten several emails this week about something Cal Clutterbuck did for a youth team last weekend in Mendota Heights. Here is one of those emails from Jennifer Hazzard:
Hello Michael....I wanted to share something very cool that Cal Clutterbuck did on Saturday, March 2nd....
My son is a squirt C hockey player for the Sibley Area Red Team and was having practice at St Thomas Academy on Saturday...some of the boys were on the ice when Cal showed up to use half the ice for some rehab skating....my son is a goalie and him and another boy crossed center ice to go talk to Cal. He couldn't have been nicer, even putting my son in the net and taking a few shots on him. After about 15 minutes of him skating solo, he came over and asked our coaches if he could join in with the team practice....he spent about 30 minutes with the boys, doing drills, scrimmaging, participating in a shootout. Obviously, the boys were thrilled. After practice ended, he came in their locker room and signed pucks, hats, jerseys and posed for a picture with the boys. It is a day they will never forget.....so, I wanted to pass along what a class act Cal Clutterbuck is and that he will be a lifelong favorite in the Hazzard household....thank you, Jennifer
Talk to you after the game.