A pair of teams right in the middle of a tight playoff race in the Western Conference battle for position on Thursday night as the surging St. Louis Blues try to deal the Minnesota Wild a fifth loss in six games.
The Wild and Blues are tied for sixth overall in the West with 46 points and St. Louis has the current tiebreaker with one fewer game played. The two clubs are just one and two points back of the fifth and fourth spot, respectively, in the conference and have a four-point edge over ninth-place Phoenix.
But the contenders are also going in opposite directions. St. Louis is on its longest winning streak of the season at five straight, while the Wild have scored just six goals over their 1-4-0 drought.
Things won't get easier for Minnesota, which won't have forward Dany Heatley for the rest of the season due to shoulder surgery.
Without Heatley, the Wild were shut out 1-0 by the Chicago Blackhawks on Tuesday. Niklas Backstrom, making his 22nd start in 24 games, made 30 saves, but a turnover led to the only goal of the game.
The Wild were done in by one mistake late in the middle stanza, as Clayton Stoner telegraphed his outlet pass in the defensive zone. Chicago's Marian Hossa crept in from the blue line, picked off the ill-advised feed and beat Backstrom with a slap shot between the pads with 4:46 remaining in the stanza.
"(Chicago) is a team that plays well defensively, so it was tough to get anything consistently going," Wild Forward Zach Parise said.
Minnesota is also six points behind the Vancouver Canucks for first place in the Northwest Division with a game in hand, while the Blues trail the Blackhawks by a practically insurmountable 18 points for first place in the Central Division with 10 games to play.
St. Louis, though, has strengthened is push for a playoff spot with its first five-game winning streak since March 3-11 of last year. A win tonight would give the Blues their longest run since a seven-game win streak from Oct. 22- Nov. 7, 2010.
Goaltender Brian Elliott has keyed the latest surge with back-to-back shutout efforts. After blanking the Detroit Red Wings 1-0 with 28 saves on Sunday and being named the NHL's Second Star of the Week the following the day, the former All-Star stopped all 15 shots faced in Tuesday's 1-0 win over the Nashville Predators.
Elliott posted his 20th career shutout on his 28th birthday and Alexander Steen made sure the effort stood up as he scored with 3:23 remaining in the second period.
"The Detroit game was a little tougher to get the shutout, but it really doesn't matter," Elliott said. "You always just want to beat them by whatever. Obviously, you just want the 'W.'"
St. Louis as a team has not allowed a goal in the last 141 minutes and 24 seconds of action, dating back to the second period of Friday's 3-1 win over the Columbus Blue Jackets. Backup Jake Allen started that game as fellow goaltender Jaroslav Halak is out with a groin injury.
The Blues have won the first two of a four-game road trip.
St. Louis has won four straight over Minnesota, including a 4-1 road win in the most recent meeting on April 1. It was just the Blues' second victory in its last eight trips to Minnesota.
Jaden Schwartz and Andy McDonald each had a goal and an assist for the Blues. Elliott stopped 19-of-20 shots faced after Halak suffered his groin injury in the final seconds of the first period.
Heatley scored the lone goal for the Wild and Backstrom turned aside 20-of-24 shots.