The Minnesota Wild could barely earn a road win to start the season. For nearly the last two months, though, they’ve made it look easy.
Minnesota faces a severe test on Friday night when it tries to continue its road success at HSBC Arena against the Eastern Conference-leading Buffalo Sabres.
The Wild were 4-15-1 in their first 20 road games, a stretch capped on Jan. 9 with its 11th road loss in a row. Since then, Minnesota (37-24-7) has gone 11-3-2 as a visiting team to stay in contention for the Northwest Division title.
With a 2-1 win at Boston on Thursday night, Minnesota has earned eight of a possible 10 points by going 3-0-2 in its last five road games. Niklas Backstrom carried a shutout deep into the third period after Pierre-Marc Bouchard helped the Wild take a 2-0 lead in the second with a goal and an assist.
“I thought our goaltending was solid,” Wild coach Jacques Lemaire said. “We tried to play as solid as possible defensively and make the most of our chances.”
Since Jan. 11, Backstrom is 10-3-3 with a 2.25 goals-against average, and the 29-year-old Finnish rookie has allowed two goals or less in eight of those starts. Lemaire said earlier this week that Manny Fernandez, who has made two starts since injuring his knee Jan. 20, could be in net for this contest.
“Maybe. We’ll see,” Lemaire said. “You never know what’s going to happen in this game.”
The Wild’s road surge has left them tied with Calgary for second place in the Northwest, four points behind first-place Vancouver. The Wild and Flames also are tied with Dallas for sixth in the Western Conference, one point in back of San Jose.
The return of Chris Drury wasn’t enough to keep Buffalo (44-17-5) from avoiding a rare home loss in its last game.
Drury missed four games after suffering a concussion Feb. 22 when he was blindsided by Ottawa’s Chris Neil in an overtime win at home. Though he was the latest player to miss time due to injury, Buffalo was 3-1-0 in Drury’s absence and continues to lead the East with 93 points.
He played just under 19 minutes and took three shots on goal in the Sabres’ 3-2 loss to Colorado on Wednesday night, Buffalo’s first defeat in four games against Northwest foes.
“I felt pretty good and got the cobwebs out in the first shift,” said Drury on the team’s official Web site.
Though Drury—who has scored a career-high 33 goals thus far—is back, Buffalo still is without many key players, including Maxim Afinogenov (wrist), Ales Kotalik (knee), Jaroslav Spacek (hand) and Paul Gaustad (ankle).
The Sabres got goals Nathan Paetsch and Jason Pominville against the Avalanche, but lost for just the eighth time at home, falling into a tie with Atlantic Division-leading New Jersey for fewest in the East. Pominville has four goals and seven assists in a career-high eight-game point streak.
Buffalo is 4-3-0 all-time against Minnesota, but has dropped two straight at home to the Wild. The Sabres haven’t dropped consecutive home games since a season-high three-game slide from Jan. 5-13. This also is the teams’ first matchup at HSBC Arena since Oct. 28, 2003.
Minnesota may be without forward Mark Parrish, who left Thursday’s game in the third period Thursday with an injured knee. Parrish is fifth on the team with 16 goals.