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‘Hard skill’ line giving Wild a jolt as Sabres come to town

Feb 12, 2024; Las Vegas, Nevada, USA; Minnesota Wild left wing Kirill Kaprizov (97) warms up before a game against the Vegas Golden Knights at T-Mobile Arena. Mandatory Credit: Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY Sports
Credit: Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY Sports

The Minnesota Wild aim for a season-best fifth win in a row when they host the Buffalo Sabres on Saturday in St. Paul.

Minnesota has matched its season high with a four-game winning streak. The Wild have notched victories over the Chicago Blackhawks, Pittsburgh Penguins, Vegas Golden Knights and Arizona Coyotes by a combined margin of 13-7.

The Wild’s new-look top line has been a big reason for the team’s recent hot streak. Coach John Hynes shuffled his lines and placed Matt Boldy with Joel Eriksson Ek and Kirill Kaprizov on the first unit.

“They’re playing with hard skill,” Hynes said. “When opportunities present themselves for them to get scoring chances or score, they’re able to capitalize on them. But a lot of their shifts, they’re hard to contain, and I think the three of them are working as that trio.

“There’s no passenger on the line. They’re all playing that same style of game. I think when you have that three talented of players on the same line and they play with hard skill, then they’re going to be a tough group to play against.”

Buffalo will try to slow Minnesota’s momentum. The Sabres are looking to bounce back from a 4-0 loss at home against the Florida Panthers, which followed a 7-0 win at home against the Los Angeles Kings.

Sabres forward Alex Tuch said he and his teammates needed to learn from the loss.

“Just wasn’t good enough for us,” Tuch said. “Wasn’t good enough in those dirty areas, bearing down, and I think a little too many shots from the outside with no traffic (in front of the net) made it a little easier on them.”

Buffalo is expected to start Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen in net. He is 13-13-2 with a 2.51 goals-against average and a .913 save percentage in 29 games (26 starts) this season.

Luukkonen did not start against the Panthers because of a lower-body injury. He was listed as day-to-day, and backup Eric Comrie (1-6-0, 3.87 GAA, .869 save percentage) took his place between the pipes.

In three career games against the Wild, Luukkonen is 2-0-1 with a 2.78 GAA and a .919 save percentage.

Minnesota is expected to counter with goaltender Filip Gustavsson (15-13-2, 3.19 GAA, .897 save percentage). He has won each of his past two starts, against Vegas and Chicago.

Gustavsson has faced Buffalo once in his career. He stopped 22 of 25 shots for an .880 save percentage and took the loss.

Kaprizov leads the Wild with 50 points (20 goals, 30 assists) in 46 games. Eriksson Ek is second on the scoring list with 44 points (24 G, 20 A) in 53 games.

The Sabres’ top scorer is Casey Mittelstadt, who has 43 points (12 G, 31 A) in 53 games. Rasmus Dahlin is second with 41 points (14 G, 27 A) in 52 games.

Minnesota is 13-11-3 at home this season. Buffalo is 11-11-3 on the road.

–Field Level Media

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