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Wild-Blue Jackets Preview

AP - Sports

The Minnesota Wild have finally been playing better hockey on the road, and a visit to the NHL's worst team could help extend that trend.

The return of their captain figures to provide an even bigger boost.

Mikko Koivu may be back in the lineup Tuesday night as Minnesota looks for a third straight win over the Columbus Blue Jackets.

The Wild's promising start looked like it might be going to waste during an 11-game road skid, but Minnesota (25-19-8) managed to snap that slide Jan. 24 with a 3-2 win at Colorado.

The current trip began with another win in Denver, and the Wild felt they may have deserved another victory Saturday in Dallas, although they lost 2-1 in a shootout.

Minnesota, which remains eighth in the Western Conference, outshot the Stars 10-4 in the third period, when Kyle Brodziak scored the tying goal.

"You wish that you got the second point, but there was very little disappointment on our side after that game," coach Mike Yeo said. "If anything, you should feel very encouraged and even more confident about where we're at and where we're going."

It should be easier to get there with Koivu on the ice. Although he is not certain to return Tuesday, he has been practicing and Yeo said he'll travel with the team.

"We'll talk about it and make the call (Monday night or Tuesday)," said Koivu, who led the Wild with 33 points when he injured his shoulder Jan. 14.

Yeo may not immediately reunite Koivu with Dany Heatley considering the way Heatley has been playing alongside Brodziak and Nick Johnson. That trio has combined for seven goals and 10 assists in the last five games, a 3-1-1 stretch.

"With them and I think with the whole team, I think we've been playing very good hockey the last couple of games," Koivu said. "It should be easier to come back to the lineup ... when the other guys around you are confident."

Facing the Blue Jackets (14-32-6) could also make his return easier. Columbus is still far behind every other NHL team even after beating another last-place club, Anaheim, 3-2 in overtime Friday.

The Jackets are returning home after playing six straight on the road. They're still wondering about the outcome of one of those games after a bizarre clock controversy in the final seconds of a 3-2 loss Wednesday in Los Angeles.

"I'm really interested in what (commissioner Gary Bettman is) going to find," interim coach Todd Richards said.

Richards will be facing Minnesota for the first time since replacing the fired Scott Arniel last month. He was head coach for the Wild the last two seasons, but couldn't get them to the playoffs and was fired in April.

"The best way for me to explain it would be to go back to my high school years," Richards told the Blue Jackets' official website. "When you have a girlfriend in high school and she breaks up with you, when you see her again the first time in the hallway, there's some emotion.

"It was like that the first time, but every other time you see her in the hallway it becomes a little easier."

He was an assistant for the two previous meetings between these teams this season, both 4-2 wins for Minnesota.

Niklas Backstrom made 43 saves Nov. 15 in Columbus, and he's expected to start again after stopping 86 of 89 shots in his last three outings overall.

These clubs meet again Saturday in St. Paul.

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