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Wild Face Best in West Canucks

(Sports Network) – The Vancouver Canucks haven’t enjoyed their first two trips to St. Paul this season. They’ll make their third and final regular-season trek to the Xcel Energy Center this evening to battle the Minnesota Wild without yet another defenseman and hoping to avoid consecutive regulation defeats for the first time in nearly three months.

The Canucks have been outscored 10-2 in pair of losses in Minnesota this year, sandwiched around a 5-1 home victory over the Wild, and have lost their last four trips there. Having lost four of its last six overall to the Wild, Vancouver is coming off just its second loss in nine games.

Henrik Sedin and Jannik Hansen scored in last night’s 3-2 setback to St. Louis that began a three-game road trip. Roberto Luongo gave up three goals on 34 shots to lose in regulation for the first time since a Dec. 5 setback to the Blues. He had gone 16-0-5 in between the regulation defeats.

Of more concern was the loss of Andrew Alberts indefinitely due to a broken wrist. He is just the latest blue line injury and joins fellow defensemen Dan Hamhuis (concussion), Keith Ballard (knee), Alex Edler (back) and Lee Sweatt (foot) on the sidelines.

“Injuries are part of the game and as a group you’ve got to pull together and find ways to win hockey games,” Canucks head coach Alain Vigneault told his team’s website. “Obviously we’re getting tested right now, but we’re going to fly to Minnesota and have a couple of good meetings [Tuesday] and come up with a plan that’s going to give us an opportunity to win [Tuesday] night.”

That plan will include trying to avoid consecutive regulation losses for the first time since Nov. 20-21.

The Canucks still lead the NHL with 81 points, four more than the Flyers, and could opt to give Luongo a rest tonight. The netminder gave up six goals in his only start versus the Wild this year on Oct. 19 in Minnesota and is 1-3 in his last four against the club while allowing 19 goals for a 5.70 goals- against average.

Backup Cory Schneider is 2-1-0 with a 1.80 GAA versus Minnesota in his career.

The Wild will be aiming to match their longest winning streak of the season, a four-game run from Jan. 2-8, tonight after Saturday’s 3-1 victory in St. Louis gave them a sweep of the home-and-home set.

Niklas Backstrom made 24 saves and Cal Clutterbuck scored for the third time in two games, while Antti Miettinen and Kyle Brodziak also scored. The Wild won their fourth straight home game and are 9-2-0 in their last 11 overall to sit in a tie for ninth in the Western Conference and a point back of potential playoff spot.

“I thought for 40 minutes, they had about six minutes that I felt they were kind of controlling,” Wild head coach Todd Richards said of the first two periods. “But other than that, I thought for 34 minutes we played some real good hockey, and got contributions from everyone.”

Backstrom has also faced the Canucks just once this, beating Luongo on Oct. 19 with 25 saves, and is 3-0-1 in his last four versus Vancouver.

Photographs by Micah Taylor, clairity, and Fibonacci Blue used in background montage under Creative Commons. Thank you.