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Ice Breakers: Bruins-Wild, Thursday January 6th

The Bruins (21-11-6) will return home to TD Garden tonight for their first home game of the new year, as they host the Minnesota Wild (19-15-5).

Boston wrapped up a season-long five-game road trip Monday with a 2-1 win over the Maple Leafs north of the border. The Wild are also coming off a 2-1 win in their last game, Tuesday night in New Jersey over the lowly Devils. With the win, Minnesota climbed within two points of the West’s eighth and final playoff spot, currently occupied by St. Louis.

We don’t see the Wild too often around this area, so we’ve got plenty to cover in terms of pre-game notes, heading into tonight’s matchup. So enough jibber-jabber, let’s get right to it…

– The B’s have earned points in six straight games now, winning their last home game of 2010 over Atlanta before going 3-0-2 on their recent roadie. Minnesota is also a hot team as of late, winning three of their last four and six of their last nine.

– Boston has struggled against the Western Conference so far this season, posting a 1-2-2 record through five games, most recently getting shut out 3-0 by the Anaheim Ducks. The only win over a Western Conference foe came against the Phoenix Coyotes in the second game of the season-opening back-to-back series played over in Prague.

– The Wild have never lost in Boston in their brief franchise history, making them the only NHL team that can boast that distinction. Minnesota has won on all five trips to TD Garden.

– In the ten games these two teams have ever played against each other, the Wild have never let the Bruins score on the power play. Minnesota is a perfect 31-for-31 on the penalty kill against the B’s.

– These two squads haven’t faced off against each other in over a year, with Boston winning a 2-1 shootout game in Minnesota back on November 25th, 2009, with David Krejci scoring the game-winner in the fourth round of the shootout, and Tuukka Rask making 28 saves for the win.

– Speaking of Rask, he has started the team’s last two contests, and may get the chance to start a third in a row. While this morning’s team skate was optional, speculation amongst several writers that cover the team indicates that it’s likely we’ll see the young Finn in goal this evening.

– Minnesota’s win on Tuesday over New Jersey came on odd terms. With the game tied at one a piece, rookie Clayton Stoner, in just his 25th NHL game, dumped the puck in to the offensive zone and headed towards the bench for a line change. Before he was able to plant his pooper on the pine, he had scored his first NHL goal and the eventual game-winner. On the dump-in, the puck took a strange ricochet off the kickplate, and while New Jersey goalie Johan Hedberg had left the crease to retrieve the puck, instead the puck careened into the goal to give the Wild the lead. Only a guy with a last name like “Stoner” would score his first NHL goal like that.

– Forward Antti Miettinen (bruised leg) and defenseman Marco Scandella (illness) are listed as day-to-day for the Wild, while forward Guillaume Latendresse (sports hernia) and defenseman Marek Zidlicky (shoulder) remain on injured reserve.

– Scoring for the Wild is led by forwards Martin Havlat (8G, 27A) and Mikko Koivu (9G, 25A).

– In goal for Minnesota will likely be veteran Jose Theodore (6-5-2, 2.75GAA). The team’s usual starter, Niklas Backstrom (13-10-3, 2.58GAA) is active but is still getting healthy after missing some time.

– Tonight’s game will mark the first return to TD Garden for former Bruin and BC Eagle, Chuck Kobasew. The 28-year-old winger was traded to the Wild in October of last season, in exchange for Craig Weller, Alexander Fallstrom, and a second round pick in 2011. Kobasew spent parts of four seasons with the B’s from 2006 to 2009, scoring 44 goals in 158 games. For Minnesota this season, the winger has six goals and an assist in 25 games played. He missed 14 games through much of November, nursing a groin injury.

– Lastly, a final wrap-up on the World Junior Hockey Tournament that finished up in Buffalo last night. The U.S. was able to come away with a medal, but it unfortunately was not the color they had hoped for. The Americans fell to the Canadians Monday night in the tournament semifinals, losing 4-1 on home turf, and ending their run at back-to-back golds. Instead, the U.S. was able to earn bronze in the consolation game last night, beating Sweden, 4-2. The gold medal game was thrilling to the bitter end, with the Russians coming back from a 3-0 deficit entering the third period by scoring five unanswered goals in the final 20 minutes for the stunning 5-3 win over Canada. The Russians nearly didn’t make the medal round at all after losing their first two games of the tourney, making their comeback story all the more surprising.

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