Goalie nods: Special night for Backstrom in return to Minnesota

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Thursday’s game at Xcel promises to be an emotional one for Niklas Backstrom.

The veteran goalie, who spent the first nine years of his NHL career in Minnesota, will be back to face the Wild for the first time since being dealt to Calgary at the trade deadline.

Backstrom, 38, enjoyed some major success in Minnesota, including the 2008-09 campaign in which he played a career-high 71 games, recorded a career-high 37 wins, finished with a .923 save percentage and was named a Vezina finalist, finishing third in voting.

Though he’s largely been inactive over the last 14 months — he was the third goalie in Minnesota with Devan Dubnyk as the No. 1 and Darcy Kuemper as the backup — Backstrom fared well in his first outing with the Flames, stopping 21 of 22 shots in a win over Montreal earlier this week.

Tonight figures to be a much tougher test than the Habs were, though. Minnesota is fighting for its playoff life, and will likely be scoreboard watching as the team it’s chasing for the final wild card spot, Colorado, is also in action against Philly.


— Key Atlantic Division tilt in Boston tonight, when the B’s host the Panthers. Roberto Luongo will go for Florida, but no word yet on a Bruins starter. Tuukka Rask started last night’s loss to the Rangers, but was hooked after 20 minutes.

— Scott Wedgewood makes his second NHL start after beating the Blue Jackets on Sunday. He’ll face off against Marc-Andre Fleury and the Penguins.

Eddie Lack versus Sergei Bobrovsky as the ‘Canes invade Columbus.

— The Anaheim goalie timeshare continues as Frederik Andersen gets back into the net tonight in Toronto. The Leafs are going with Garret Sparks.

Petr Mrazek, who wasn’t terrific in relief of Jimmy Howard in Tuesday’s loss to Tampa Bay, goes for the Red Wings. Ben Scrivens goes for the Habs.

— Winnipeg is starting Ondrej Pavelec, who’s coming off a shutout of Vancouver. The Kings are likely to counter with Jonathan Quick.

Ryan Miller, who made 49 saves against the Blues in his last outing, will start for the Canucks. Nashville looks as though it’ll give Pekka Rinne the nod.

— Two teams in the thick of their respective wild card chases meet in Colorado: Steve Mason goes for the Flyers, Semyon Varlamov for the Avs.

Louis Domingue draws back in for host Arizona, giving Mike Smith the night off. The Stars will likely go with Kari Lehtonen.

— The red-hot James Reimer starts for San Jose. Cam Talbot goes for Edmonton.

Canucks’ Ilya Mikheyev to have season-ending knee surgery

Ilya Mikheyev
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VANCOUVER, British Columbia — Vancouver Canucks right wing Ilya Mikheyev is set to have season-ending surgery on his left knee.

Canucks general manager Patrik Allvin said Friday night the 28-year-old Russian forward tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee in the team’s first preseason game Sept. 25. Mikheyev will undergo surgery next week and is expected to be ready for training camp in the fall.

Mikheyev was originally listed as week-to-week with the injury and played 45 regular-season games, finishing with 13 goals and 15 assists. He scored in his final appearance Friday night, a 5-2 home victory over Columbus.

Mikheyev signed a four-year, $19 million contract as a free agent last summer.

Maple Leafs’ Matthews out at least 3 weeks with knee injury

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Toronto Maple Leafs center Auston Matthews will miss at least three weeks with a sprained knee.

The team announced the reigning MVP’s anticipated absence Friday, two days after Matthews was injured in Toronto’s victory against the New York Rangers.

Matthews is expected to miss at least six games and could be out for a few more. The timing of the injury coinciding with the NHL All-Star break and the Maple Leafs bye week prevents this from costing Matthews more time out of the lineup.

After being voted an All-Star by fans, Matthews is now out of the event scheduled for Feb. 3-4 in Sunrise, Florida. The league announced Aleskander Barkov from the host Florida Panthers will take Matthews’ place on the Atlantic Division All-Star roster.

Matthews, who won the Hart Trophy last season after leading the NHL with 60 goals, has 53 points in 47 games this season.

Caufield opted for surgery with Habs out of playoff race

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MONTREAL — Montreal Canadiens winger Cole Caufield said Friday he wouldn’t be having season-ending surgery on his right shoulder if the team were in playoff contention.

But with the Canadiens near the bottom of the Eastern Conference standings, the 22-year-old Caufield said he decided to have the surgery to protect his long-term health. The procedure is scheduled to be performed by Dr. Peter Millett on Wednesday.

“I didn’t want to stop playing,” Caufield said. “I had a couple tests done to look at it more clearly but, in the end, like it could’ve been one more fall and it could have been even worse.”

Caufield, who leads the Canadiens with 26 goals in 46 games, had three different medical opinions on his shoulder before concluding that his season was over.

“I think they’ve seen a lot more than I have and they know the differences and what they like or don’t like about it,” he said about the medical opinions. “Long term, I think this is what’s best but for sure it was tough to sit out that game against Toronto on Saturday night.”

Caufield initially felt the injury in an awkward fall during Montreal’s 4-2 loss at Dallas on Dec. 23. He said his right shoulder popped, and he replaced it himself.

Caufield felt it again in the Habs’ 4-3 loss at Nashville on Jan. 12. The club announced on Jan. 21 that Caufield would miss the rest of the season.

Caufield is nearing the end of his three-year, entry-level contract and will be a restricted free agent this summer.

All-Star Matty Beniers to miss next 2 games for Kraken

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SEATTLE — Seattle Kraken rookie All-Star Matty Beniers will miss the team’s final two games before the All-Star break after taking a big hit from Vancouver’s Tyler Myers earlier this week.

Seattle coach Dave Hakstol said after morning skate Friday that Beniers would not play Friday night against Calgary or Saturday against Columbus. Hakstol did not speculate on Beniers’ availability for next weekend’s All-Star Game in Florida.

The team has not specified what kind of injury Beniers sustained from the hit. He was barreled over by Myers away from the play early in the second period in Wednesday’s 6-1 victory over Vancouver. Myers was penalized for interference on the play. Beniers returned briefly for one shift later in the period but did not play in the third period.

Beniers is Seattle’s lone All-Star selection this season. He leads all rookies in goals (17) and points (36), and is fifth in total ice time for rookies.

Seattle also placed defenseman Justin Schultz on injured reserve and recalled forward Max McCormick from Coachella Valley of the AHL. Hakstol said Schultz is improving but there’s no timeline on his return.