High-scoring Wild to face Budaj, Kings

LOS ANGELES -- The Minnesota Wild and the Los Angeles Kings meet on Saturday afternoon coming off very different results in their last game. While the Wild attempt to build on a comeback victory against the first place team, the Kings will try to erase the memory of a poor effort against a last place one.

The Wild (24-9-4) continue to be a revelation under coach Bruce Boudreau, and their 5-4 victory against the San Jose Sharks Thursday is further evidence that this team is a serious Stanley Cup contender. After losing a much-publicized match against the Columbus Blue Jackets last Saturday that snapped a 12-game winning streak, Minnesota appeared to start its three-game California road trip on the wrong foot.

The Wild trailed 4-2 with 15 minutes left in regulation but Mikko Koivu potted two goals, including the game winner, in a space of 1:55 to give Minnesota its 11th road victory of the season and drew it within one point of the Central Division-leading Chicago Blackhawks with the Wild holding four games in hand.

"It's very important to get a win on the first game of the road trip," Koivu said. "Every building we go into on this trip will be tough one. Our goal was to get two points and move on to Los Angeles."

Minnesota started slowly due in part to a four-day layoff after the Columbus loss but their four-goal third period outburst continues to be a change in style for a franchise whose mentality was defense-first prior to Boudreau's arrival.

The Wild lead the Western Conference with 118 goals scored and their plus-38 goal differential is more than triple the second ranked team in that department (San Jose and Chicago with plus-12). Their offense receives contributions across the board as the Wild do not have player in the top 20 in scoring yet still are most productive in the West.

Eric Staal is the top scorer after signing a three-year contract as an unrestricted free agent in the offseason, and Thursday's win is an example of the character his new team has shown.

"We were tenacious, it took us a little while to get going," Staal said. "Once we shifted our lines around, we were really aggressive and were on top of San Jose throughout despite being down most of the game. It was a solid effort, that's a big win."

The Kings' (19-16-4) up and down season continues after a disappointing 4-0 home loss to the Detroit Red Wings on Thursday. The defeat came on the heels of a home-and-home sweep of the Sharks, and the inability to build on those wins is a primary reason for Los Angeles' eighth place standing in the Western Conference.

The shutout at the hands of an average defensive team like Detroit spotlights the main issue for the Kings -- a lack of offense. Despite getting an MVP-type season from Jeff Carter, whose 21 goals ties him for second in the NHL, Los Angeles' offense has produced only 94 goals -- an output that places them only ahead of Arizona and Colorado in the conference.

The paltry offense wastes a solid defensive effort that ranks Los Angeles third in the West in goals against, fashioned primarily by a strong performance from an unforeseen contributor at the start of the season, goaltender Peter Budaj. His play following a serious groin injury to long-time starter Jonathan Quick on opening night has been the backbone to keeping Los Angeles in games without the benefit of a strong offense.

After the Detroit loss, Jordan Nolan summarized where his team is and where they need to be.

"Jeff Carter has been carrying this team for us and it seems if he doesn't get a goal, no one steps up and fills that void, " Nolan said. "We have to start picking it up as a team. Budaj and Carter have been great for us all year, and we just need more from some other guys. We were flat tonight, we didn't come out great and that was the story all game. Win two, win three, lose two, lose three, whatever it may be, it's starting to get a little old. We're starting to get in to crunch time here, so we have to get some wins."
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