Alexander Shun | @alexpshun
Digital Content Manager | KFAN.com
It wasn't the greatest start to an eight-game homestand but the Minnesota Wild can get back on the winning track tonight when they take on the Tampa Bay Lightning.
Coming off a 4-3 overtime loss to the division-rival Chicago Blackhawks, the Wild now face a Tampa Bay team that admittedly has been average all season long.
The Lightning are 22nd in the league in goals allowed per game (2.87) and 16th in the league in goals scored per game (2.70) and seem miles removed from the team that made the Eastern Conference Finals last season. Despite their struggles though, Wild players and coaches know they will be playing a very good Lightning squad.
"I know they're a team that in the last two years have been in the Stanley Cup Finals and Conference Finals and they're a good team," Wild Head Coach Bruce Boudreau said of the Lightning Friday after his team's practice. "They're starting to feel it right now. Two wins over a good L.A team and a good Anaheim team and the first game of the road trip you usually play your best game. I anticipate a really tough battle tonight."
Tampa Bay is a team playing well right now, entering Friday night riding a two-game winning streak and, despite their inconsistent play thus far, still sit just six points out of a wild card position and just eight points out of the sixth spot in the East.
With that in mind, the Lightning know that if they can string together some wins, they can play themselves into a playoff spot, and a good playoff spot at that.
"You'd have to sit here and say they're one of the best teams in the West if not the league," Lightning Head Coach Jon Cooper said. "Bruce [Boudreau] has done a great job with them. They're four lines deep. Their goaltender is playing outstanding. This is going to be a real test. It's always been tough to play in their building, but to see what they're doing now, every night you look up they get another two points. This will be a real test for us. But, I'm excited for this. I want to see where we're at. This will be a good gauge."
The Wild are the top team in the Western Conference and are set on padding their conference lead over the rival Blackhawks.
With such a long homestand in front of them - and having already dropped the first game Wednesday night - Minnesota players know that they'll need to take care of business on their home ice if they hope to be successful and close out the season strong.
"We want to be a tough team to play against at home," Jason Pominville said Friday. "We gotta make sure we establish that. We distance [ourselves] and push some teams back and at the same time, send a message that it's not gonna be easy when teams come to play here."
The puck drops at the Xcel Energy Center tonight at 7:10 P.M. CST and can be heard on KFAN 100.3 FM.