Canucks-Wild Preview

Associated Press  |  Last updated March 10, 2013
The Vancouver Canucks' recent struggles have allowed the Minnesota Wild to tighten the Northwest Division race. A three-game homestand may be just what the Wild need to overtake the Canucks. The Wild look to continue their impressive play at home Sunday night and pull even with the division-leading Canucks by sending them to their sixth loss in seven games. Vancouver (11-6-6) has surrendered 23 goals during a 1-3-2 skid following an 8-1-2 stretch that propelled the club to the top of the Northwest. That lead is now down to two points on charging Minnesota (12-9-2), which seems to be finally coming together after making a splash in free agency last summer, signing Zach Parise and Ryan Suter. The Wild have won six of nine after beating Nashville 2-1 in a shootout on the road Saturday. "It was a positive step forward for us," said Matt Cullen, who scored the decisive goal in the tiebreaker. "We stuck with our game and continued to battle and push for 60 minutes. "It took a little longer, but again, it was an important two points for us and it sets us up for a big weekend if we can continue on here." Minnesota now returns home for three games looking to improve its 8-2-1 record at the Xcel Energy Center. One of those defeats, however, was a 4-1 loss to the Canucks on Feb. 7, but they've since rebounded by winning four of five. Parise leads the Wild with nine goals after scoring in regulation against the Predators, and he's managed a point in each of the last four home games. The left wing has one goal and one assist in seven career meetings with Vancouver, but has been held pointless for four straight. Suter has also been kept off the scoresheet in two season matchups, but he has nine point in 10 games since the most recent contest against Vancouver. The Canucks are trying to avoid their first four-game slide since Jan. 16-22, 2011. "You would like to think it's just one of those times in a season where things aren't going right for you, but I think there's still things we need to sharpen up on, clearly," left wing Chris Higgins told the league's official website. Facing Minnesota would usually present a good chance for a victory since they've won nine of the past 11 meetings, including a 2-1 home win Feb. 12. Vancouver's struggles continued Thursday with a 2-1 overtime loss at Columbus, the last-place team in the Central Division. Cory Schneider gave up the winning goal with 56.9 seconds left. "On their winning goal, both of our guys sort of mis-stepped there and the guy went around them," coach Alain Vigneault said. "He came in all alone against Schneids, so they were able to capitalize on their opportunity." Captain Henrik Sedin has continued to produce despite his team's slump, collecting three goals and five assists in six games, but he has no points in his last three meetings with Minnesota. Defenseman Kevin Bieksa could return to Vancouver's lineup after missing three games with a groin injury. He has five goals in his past 10 games, including one against Minnesota on Feb. 12.
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