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Wild vs. Blues preview: Season series finale is a must-win

WILD PREVIEW

1 p.m. Saturday vs. St. Louis Blues, Xcel Energy Center

TV; radio: BSN; 100.3 FM

Stats and analytics: Tap here.

For the fans: The Wild are hosting a food drive, with collection bins for non-perishable food items and monetary donations at all gates beginning at 10:45 a.m. through the start of the first period. Donations will benefit the Hallie Q. Brown Community Center.

Sarah McLellan's analysis:

Opening bell: Guess who? The Blues (37-30-3) are back, and they always seem to show up on the Wild's calendar when the Wild are in gut check-time. Saturday will be no different. The Wild (34-28-8) had their eight-game point streak end Wednesday when they were creamed 6-0 by Los Angeles, and now they need a win to avoid going into a four-day break five points shy of Vegas for the last wild-card seed in the Western Conference. A victory would also hurdle St. Louis, which is ahead of the Wild by one point.

Watch him: Blues D Nick Leddy is expected to play in his 1,000th game on Saturday at Xcel Energy Center, a fitting backdrop for the milestone. The Eden Prairie native was drafted by the Wild in the first round in 2009, months after he was crowned "Mr. Hockey" and won a state title at the X, but was traded by the team before making it to the NHL. After one season with the Gophers, Leddy turned pro with Chicago, won a Stanley Cup with the Blackhawks in 2013 and is now on the brink of becoming the 14th active defenseman to reach the 1,000 game plateau. The 33-year-old also had stints with the Islanders and Red Wings before joining the Blues.

NHL standings

Injuries: Wild D Jonas Brodin (lower body), C Joel Eriksson Ek (lower body) and D Jared Spurgeon (hip/back).

Forecast: St. Louis won the last two matchups earlier this month, and both losses stung the Wild. The first dropped the Wild further behind in the playoff race and the latter, last Saturday, cut their lead over the Blues to a single point. Now St. Louis is in front. Why have the Blues been such a pesky opponent lately? Because the Wild have struggled to score. Coach John Hynes also pointed out that the Wild were dominated in the faceoff circle, which led to them getting stuck on defense. He wants the Wild to play a more "connected game." If they transition smoothly from their own end, through the neutral zone and into St. Louis territory, Hynes believes that'll improve the Wild's offense. Without that uptick, history could easily repeat itself as the Wild suffer another crushing blow at the hands of their rivals.

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