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ST. PAUL — The Winnipeg Jets will try to complete a week-long Central Division sweep when they take on the Minnesota Wild tonight in St. Paul.
The Jets are coming off home wins over division foes Dallas and Colorado but will be in tough against a Minnesota squad that has already beaten them twice this season and is desperately trying to get back into a playoff spot.
Coach Paul Maurice will stick with the status quo in his lineup, meaning Connor Hellebuyck makes a seventh straight start in net. Forward Nic Petan and defenceman Sami Niku will be the two healthy scratches, while Dustin Byfuglien and Nikolaj Ehlers remain out with injuries.
“The grind will be evident. It will be a physical game, for sure,” Maurice said following the morning skate at Xcel Energy Center.
Winnipeg (27-13-2) is one point behind Nashville for the division lead but have three games in hand. They are 11 points ahead of Minnesota (21-18-3) who sit in ninth place, one point out of the final Western Conference wildcard playoff spot.
The Wild beat the Jets 4-2 in November in St. Paul — in which Winnipeg blew a 2-0 third-period lead — and 3-1 at Bell MTS Place in December.
“We just need to stay patient. They play hard, defensively responsible. A lot of veteran guys. It’s going to be what you expect later in the season, towards playoff time. That’s how teams are going to be playing, so it’s kind of a great way to flip our mindset and get into those types of games,” said captain Blake Wheeler, who had one goal and three assists against the Avalanche on Tuesday.
This is a busy stretch for the Jets, who will fly home immediately after the game and host the Detroit Red Wings Friday, followed by a visit from the Anaheim Ducks Sunday afternoon.
“Game by game, day by day,” Wheeler said of the mindset. “Do whatever is necessary to win tonight, and when tomorrow comes, do the same thing. Back-to-backs are what they are, but that doesn’t mean we try to save some in the tank for tonight.”
Overall, the Jets are 9-5-0 in divisional games this year. Minnesota is 7-4-1.
“Historically, looking back they’ve been fairly close games, a lot of one-goal games. I think that’s kind of what we’ve come to expect when we play a team like Minnesota. They have such great depth up front,” said Jets forward Adam Lowry.
Winnipeg has scored 12 goals in the wins over Dallas and Colorado. Minnesota is coming off a 4-0 loss to Boston on Tuesday night that snapped a three-game win streak.
“Obviously these Central division games are really important. Those two teams are right behind us and Minnesota’s no different,” said Lowry.
Devan Dubnyk is expected to start in goal for the Wild.
Mike McIntyre grew up wanting to be a professional wrestler. But when that dream fizzled, he put all his brawn into becoming a professional writer.