Wild aim to cap road trip with win over Panthers

(SportsNetwork.com) - The Minnesota Wild hope a road game against the Florida Panthers can help them get back on track, as the clubs meet for Saturday's tilt at BB&T Center.

The Wild enter Saturday with a 1-2-0 record on their four-game road trip, but they have had tremendous success on the road against the Panthers in recent years. Minnesota has won two straight and nine of the last 11 meetings with the Panthers overall and has claimed five of the past six encounters in the Sunshine State.

All told, Minnesota has outscored the Panthers by a combined 40-22 margin over the 13 all-time meetings between the clubs.

After beginning their current swing with a 2-1 win at Buffalo, the Wild have dropped consecutive games versus Toronto and Tampa Bay. Minnesota dropped a 3-1 decision to the Lightning on Thursday, as Steven Stamkos scored with 5:04 remaining in the third period to snap a tie game. Sami Salo added an empty- netter to seal the win for the home team.

The Wild have lost two straight following a three-game win streak and have mustered just four goals over their three most recent outings. Mikko Koivu accounted for Minnesota's lone score on Thursday and Josh Harding turned back 27-of-29 shots in a losing effort.

With the contest knotted at 1-1 and the teams engaged in a 4-on-4 situation, Tampa Bay's Matt Carle sent the puck along the right boards and Stamkos beat Wild defenseman Ryan Suter to the disc. The star centerman then skated in alone on Harding and placed a shot between the goaltender's pads that sent the Lightning in front with just over five minutes to play.

"We make a mistake, and obviously you can't give a player like that an opportunity," Wild head coach Mike Yeo said of Stamkos' breakaway goal.

The Wild could get No. 1 goaltender Niklas Backstrom back in the crease tonight for the first time since Oct. 8. Backstrom was sidelined for four games with a knee injury before suiting up as the backup to Harding in Thursday's loss.

Backstrom is 0-0-2 with a 3.40 goals against average in three games this season, but he boasts a 5-0-1 mark and a 1.95 GAA in six career outings against the Panthers.

After Saturday's contest, the Wild will play two straight and six of their next seven games on home ice. Next up for Minnesota is Tuesday's game against the visiting Nashville Predators.

While Minnesota is trying to avoid a third straight loss, the Panthers enter Saturday having lost three in a row in regulation. Florida is just 1-6-0 since beginning the 2013-14 season with a win at Dallas.

The Panthers latest setback came Thursday against Boston, as Florida goaltender Tim Thomas faced his former team for the first time. Reilly Smith scored on Thomas with 58.7 seconds to play to help the Bruins record a 3-2 road win.

Thomas won a Stanley Cup and Conn Smythe trophy with the Bruins in 2011 while leading the franchise to its first Stanley Cup title since 1972. Thomas, a two-time Vezina Trophy winner, played one more season with the Bruins after that championship year before sitting out the lockout-shortened campaign. He then became a free agent this past offseason and appeared in training camp with the Panthers on a professional tryout before signing a one-year deal just before the start of the season.

Trailing by a goal, Florida had tied the game at the 14-minute mark after a left circle faceoff win saw Jesse Winchester tip in a Nick Bjugstad shot. Boston, though, took a 3-2 lead with 58.7 seconds left as a broken play saw the puck get through several players in front, with Smith backhanding it past Thomas for his first goal of the season.

Florida got Thomas out of the net late, but was unable to score the equalizer.

"We lost some faceoffs in our zone and they made us pay for that," said Florida head coach Kevin Dineen. "I liked our last 40 minutes, but the first period might have been our worst of the year."

Winchester and Kris Versteeg had the goals for the Panthers, while Thomas allowed all three goals on 40 shots.

Thursday's contest marked the start of a six-game homestand for Florida, which is 1-2-0 as the host in 2013-14.