Given their positions in the postseason race, the Minnesota Wild and Columbus Blue Jackets can't afford to squander points down the stretch.
Visiting Minnesota looks to avoid a fourth straight defeat while dealing a blow to Columbus' playoff hopes Sunday night.
The bold signings of Zach Parise and Ryan Suter - two of the team's top three scorers - appear to be paying off for the Wild (21-14-2), who are in a tight battle with Vancouver for the Northwest Division lead and likely No. 3 seed in the Western Conference playoffs.
However, Minnesota - which hasn't qualified for the postseason since winning its only division title in 2007-08 - has been struggling of late. It's dropped four of five following a seven-game winning streak, including being shut out for the first time this season in a 3-0 loss at Los Angeles on Thursday.
Winger Jason Pominville played his first game since being acquired from Buffalo on Wednesday for two prospects, a 2013 first-round pick and 2014 second-rounder. He said the two off days should help him adjust to playing for the Wild, who have allowed the first goal in each of their last five games.
"I think if we just sharpen up a little bit in a couple areas we'll be fine," Pominville said. "It's important to have better starts and not put ourselves in a tough spot right off the bat."
Coach Mike Yeo pulled Niklas Backstrom after three minutes as he allowed goals on the first two shots he faced.
"This has been a grueling stretch," Yeo said. "The last thing we need (is to be concerned), and we need to focus on the next game and that's it. Obviously it becomes increasingly more difficult to do that. You start looking at the big picture and see what other teams are doing.
"Being a winner is managing the emotions that are involved."
Columbus is feeling the pressure as well as it battles for one of the final West playoff spots. The Blue Jackets fell 3-1 at St. Louis on Friday and trail the eighth-place Blues by three points.
Artem Anisimov scored the lone goal for Columbus (16-15-7), which had won three straight.
"We have to learn from this and then put it behind us," coach Todd Richards said. "We can't dwell on it. Games are too important. We've got to refocus and get ready for Sunday."
The Blue Jackets, who made their only playoff appearance in 2008-09, will be playing their third game with winger Marian Gaborik, who has a goal and two assists since being acquired from the New York Rangers on Wednesday.
Gaborik spent his first eight seasons with Minnesota, including a 42-goal, 41-assist effort when the Wild made their last postseason appearance. He has a goal and an assist over two games versus his former team.
Columbus, which has won four straight at home and is 9-0-3 in its last 12 there, could again turn to Sergei Bobrovsky in net.
Bobrovsky's 2.09 goals-against average ranks among the league leaders and he's 8-0-2 with a 0.89 GAA in his last 10 appearances - nine starts - at home.
Backstrom, who has a 3.89 GAA over his last six starts, could be in net again Sunday. He made 17 saves in a 3-2 win over Columbus on Jan. 29.
The Associated Press News Service
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