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NHL Preview from The Sports Network
Thursday, December 19th (All times Eastern)
Minnesota Wild (20-11-5) at Pittsburgh Penguins (25-10-1), 7 p.m.
(SportsNetwork.com) - The Minnesota Wild will aim for their first three-game winning streak in a month when they visit the streaking Pittsburgh Penguins for Thursday's battle at CONSOL Energy Center.
The Wild have won two straight and both victories came via the shootout. Minnesota, which hasn't won three in a row since a four-game winning streak from Nov. 9-17, halted a two-game slide with Saturday's 2-1 decision at Colorado and then picked up a 3-2 home win Tuesday against Vancouver.
Minnesota headed into the third period of its last two games trailing on the scoreboard, but was able to get both games to overtime. The Wild were down 2-1 after 40 minutes on Tuesday before Charlie Coyle scored at 8:47 of the third period to even the score.
Jason Pominville then picked up the shootout winner to lift the Wild to the home victory. Pominville skated straight in, faked to his left and pulled back to his right before sneaking the disc just inside the post on Roberto Luongo's glove side.
Wild netminder Josh Harding stoned Ryan Kesler on the Canucks' last chance to seal the win.
"Our guys dug deep. Two games in a row, we're down after two periods, come back and battle back and get a win. It says a lot about our group," said Wild coach Mike Yeo.
Zach Parise also scored in regulation for Minnesota and Mikko Koivu had a pair of assists. Harding made 29 saves in the win.
Thursday's tilt marks the start of a four-game road trip for the Wild, who are 6-8-3 as the guest this season compared to a 14-3-2 mark on home ice. Minnesota also is scheduled to visit the New York Rangers, Philadelphia and Winnipeg during this swing.
The Penguins halted a four-game losing streak in the series against Minnesota with a 4-2 road win on Oct. 18, 2011. Despite Pittsburgh's win in the most recent meeting, the Wild have won six straight in the Steel City and are 6-1-0 on the road in this matchup.
Minnesota will bring a familiar face with it to Pittsburgh tonight, as forward Matt Cooke is set to return to the city he called home for the last five seasons before signing with the Wild over the summer. He has five goals and seven assists in 36 games for Minnesota this season.
The Penguins enter Thursday riding their second five-game winning streak in a matter of weeks. Pittsburgh, which also went 5-0 from Nov. 27-Dec. 5, has won 10 of its last 11 games to extend its lead atop the Metropolitan Division to 12 points over Washington.
Pittsburgh blew a lead late in regulation in Wednesday's road game against the New York Rangers, but Brandon Sutter netted the lone goal in the shootout, as the Penguins survived to take a 4-3 decision.
The Pens and Rangers were tied at 1-1 after two periods, but Pittsburgh scored two quick goals early in the third to grab a two-goal cushion. However, New York would send the game to overtime thanks to goals by Mats Zuccarello and Derick Brassard over the last seven-plus minutes of regulation. Brassard's power-play tally tied the game at 3-3 with 1:46 left.
Although New York had another power-play opportunity in the extra session, but couldn't convert. That allowed Sutter to eventually win the game in the fifth round of the shootout.
"Part of me was just waiting to get a chance, I felt good with the puck and wanted a shot," said Sutter. "It's always fun to get out there. That's only the third one I've ever had. I missed the first two so it feels good to get that one."
Sutter also scored in regulation, as did Chris Kunitz and Pascal Dupuis for the Penguins. Marc-Andre Fleury made 29 stops and then held New York off the board in the deciding breakaway contest as Pittsburgh tied its season-high winning streak.
Pens forward Evgeni Malkin is expected to miss a third straight game on Thursday after sustaining a leg injury while sliding feet-first into the boards on Saturday against Detroit. Malkin is third in the NHL in points this season, posting 41 points off nine goals and a league-best 32 assists.
In addition to Malkin's injury, the Pens are currently without their top-four defenseman, as Kris Letang, Paul Martin, Brooks Orpik and Rob Scuderi are sidelined with various ailments.
However, forward James Neal will be available for the Penguins tonight after completing a five-game suspension for kneeing Boston's Brad Marchand in the head on Dec. 7. Neal has 10 goals and 10 assists in only 16 games for Pittsburgh this season.
Pittsburgh is kicking off a brief two-game homestand tonight and has won eight straight as the host. The Pens, who are 15-3-0 as the host this season, haven't lost in the Steel City since dropping a test to Philadelphia on Nov. 13.
12/19 11:16:18 ET