Oilers, Wild in West dogfight
There were five Western Conference teams tied with 51 points heading into Friday night's NHL slate, including the Edmonton Oilers and Minnesota Wild, who were set to square off against each other.
The top four teams in the West have a comfortable grip on playoff spots, but everything else is up for grabs. There are two points separating fifth and 11th place in the conference.
The idle Vancouver Canucks and Dallas Stars are among the 51-point quintet, with the Anaheim Ducks and Phoenix Coyotes just ahead of them at 53 points.
Edmonton will be looking to win but also to save face at Rexall Place after suffering its second embarrassing loss on home ice in as many months. The Oilers and Minnesota are both 24-20-3 heading into the clash.
Edmonton, which had won three straight heading into the all-star break, was hammered upon its return 10-2 by Buffalo on Tuesday. Just over a month ago, the team was drubbed 9-2 at Rexall by Chicago.
Robert Nilsson had a goal and assist for Edmonton, with Erik Cole also scoring. Dwayne Roloson was yanked after allowing three goals on eight shots, with Jeff Drouin-Deslauriers facing the Buffalo barrage the rest of the way.
"It'll be nice to play again after that," said defenceman Jason Strudwick. "You just feel uncomfortable and not happy, obviously didn't sleep well after the game."
The Oilers and Wild met for the first of six meetings in 10 weeks on Jan. 15. Minnesota broke open a close game with a three-goal third period en route to a 5-1 win.
Pierre-Marc Bouchard had a goal and assist in the victory, with Niklas Backstrom finishing with 23 saves.
Bouchard was impressive again in the Wild's first game back from the all-star break, scoring twice and assisting in a 6-1 pounding of Toronto on Tuesday. It matched the club's season high in goals.
"For us, to feel good that we can score some goals and make some plays and gain some confidence before we go to a couple of tough places to play, getting even strength goals is huge," said Andrew Brunette, who had a goal and an assist.
In addition to the offensive outburst, Minnesota physically handled the meek Maple Leafs.
Edmonton is playing the fourth of six straight at home. The homestand continues Sunday afternoon against Nashville.
With files from the Associated Press