It's like this: tonight's game is the second to last road game for the Wild this season. They drew the lucky stick this year and have 8 of their final 10 games at the X here in Minnesota. Though with the way they've been playing on the road recently, they may just wish they had a few of those away from home.
In these final 10 games, the Wild face the Flames three more times: Tonight in the Saddledome, then twice back-to-back at the X in a couple of weeks. The other games look to be from mild to mildly difficult for the Wild. We've got Gretzky present once (Coyotes), Gretzky past twice (Blues, yes, he was a Blue for a couple of months), Gretzky past past once (Kings), Gretzky past past past twice (Oilers), and the nowhere near Gretzky once (Nordiques...I mean Avs).
So the Wild have six more games to take a possible 12 points from division rivals for all the marbles. The Oilers are in a tailspin since trading their franchise player (we all saw what happened when the Blues traded Pronger), so they shouldn't be much of a threat at this point, even with the Wild's former number one in goal. The Avs will be a bit of a threat as it will be in their house for the last road game. The Kings could be a little dangerous as they fight to stay off the bottom (which Philly seems to want to keep for a long time). The Blues can be a mixed bag. They can either keep it close, or fall apart in the third (ala the last two games v. the Flames). The Coyotes have Gretzky behind the bench, so that's something, right?
And then we come to the Flames. One away and two at home. The easiest way to put it would be a loss at the Dome and two wins at the X. But as we've seen of late, the Flames are looking fairly dismal down the home stretch, while the Wild have been picking up the pace. The Flames have dropped four of their last seven, while the Wild have won six of their last eight. Course, five of those games were decided by one goal, so that's not saying a whole lot.
Who do the Wild have these days? Well, the most lethal line consists of the Slovaks - Gabby and Demitra plus whoever else Lemaire decides to put on the line with them, probably Parrish. Their on-ice chemistry has been nothing short of amazing this season. They can make plays without even looking for each other. It's a sight to behold. Watch out for Demitra if he gets behind the net. More than a few pucks have been bounced off the back of goalies and into the net this season.
If the game goes into OT, keep an eye out for Burns to slam the final goal home. He's done it back-to-back in the last week or so. The Canucks didn't take too kindly to him, as they clotheslined him after he scored. He took it stride of course, as he did win the game. I still don't like him all that much, but he seems to finally be fitting into the Wild's system.
Backstrom stepped up and has been pretty amazing in net since Manny's injury. Look for him to get the start and Manny to be backup.
Rolston has rediscovered his wicked slapper, so watch yourself for a bullet coming from the blue line.
With the way both teams have been playing, I'd say the Wild have a good chance to take this game, even if it is in the dome. As evidenced in the last few games there, it's not as much of a stronghold as it was earlier in the season. And if Playfair is wearing anything but the best, this should be an even easier win for the State of Hockey (cue the anthem).