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WILD (13-13-3) at AVALANCHE (17-9-6)
Last 10 -- Minnesota 6-2-2; Colorado 4-3-3
Season series -- The Wild have been a thorn in the side of the Avalanche all season. This is the fourth of six meetings between the Northwest Division rivals, and Minnesota has captured the first three - a pair of 3-2 victories via the shootout, and a 5-3 win that opened a home-and-home at the end of November. Chuck Kobasew recorded a hat trick for the Wild in that game. Niklas Backstrom has beaten the Avalanche twice and Josh Harding once.
Big story -- The Wild have started to make some noise in the Northwest - although they still occupy the cellar, they begin Wednesday just one point behind Edmonton. The Avalanche, meanwhile, have moved back into the division lead they had relinquished to Calgary, and are coming off a successful 3-1-1 road trip.
"We weren't our sharpest. I don't think we were at our worst either," forward Antti Miettinen told the Minneapolis Star-Tribune. "But we made it tough on ourselves with some turnovers and not playing the puck deep."
Avalanche -- A neck injury suffered in overtime against Florida sent workhorse goalie Craig Anderson to the sidelines in favor of backup Peter Budaj, and the fifth-year veteran has responded. He stopped 29 of 31 shots in a 3-2 win in Columbus on Saturday and followed up with his eighth career shutout, turning aside all 35 shots by St. Louis in a 4-0 victory Monday to close the road trip.
"I think our team is on a roll now," Budaj told the Denver Post. "They got some shots early and I was able to see the puck and make the saves, and when you do that, the confidence level is going to rise up."
Who's hot -- Avalanche forward Chris Stewart disappointed early in the season and was briefly sent down to the AHL, but he's figured it out since returning. His two goals Monday gave Stewart five in his last nine games. He has 13 points during that span.
"It definitely was an eye-opener going down to the American League, even if it was only for two days," Stewart told the Denver Post. "It opened my eyes and showed me what I had to do. It was unfortunate that guys got injured, but I'm trying to make the most of my opportunities and show what I can do, and I'm trying to do that every night.
"I'm just trying to stick to that power forward mold and go to the net and making hits when I can, stand in front and use my big body."
Injury report -- Minnesota forwards Cal Clutterbuck and Derek Boogaard were out Monday with flu-like symptoms. Concussions have put forwards Pierre-Marc Bouchard and Petr Sykora and defenseman Brent Burns on injured reserve.
Anderson is on the verge of returning for Colorado, though there's no reason to rush him with the way Budaj is playing. Defensemen Kyle Cumiskey (foot) and Ruslan Salei (back) and forward David Jones (torn left ACL) are all on injured reserve.
Stat pack: Before getting shut down by the Coyotes, the Wild had eight power-play goals over their previous seven games, going 6-0-1 in that stretch.
Puck drop: Look out for rookie center Matt Duchene, who scored a goal for Colorado the last time it played Minnesota and followed up that effort with consecutive multi-goal games. He made it 6 goals in six games by scoring against St. Louis and finds himself among the leaders in rookie scoring with 19 points.