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One-goal victories have been a major part of the Minnesota Wild's climb to the top of the Northwest Division. They hope to make things a little easier on themselves Tuesday when they attempt to continue their home domination of the Chicago Blackhawks.
The Wild (37-24-5) lead the Northwest by two points on second-place Calgary, which hosts Columbus. Minnesota regained sole possession of the top spot Sunday when Martin Skoula scored with 1:15 left in overtime to clinch a 2-1 win over Los Angeles.
Minnesota's last seven wins have all come by one goal, powering its current three-game winning streak. The team has 21 one-goal wins, tying the New York Islanders for the NHL lead.
"This is a good way to learn how to play under pressure a little bit and when there's a tight game," said Wild right wing Marian Gaborik, who had a goal and assisted on Skoula's game-winner, giving him team highs of 34 goals and 66 points. "We need to do a big push, and I think this is going to be a good learning experience for us to go to playoffs."
That experience started immediately with a season-opening 1-0 win over Chicago (31-28-6) on Oct. 4, extending the Wild's home winning streak against the Blackhawks to nine games. They are 11-2-0 all-time versus Chicago at Xcel Energy Center.
Minnesota's nine-game overall run against the Blackhawks ended with a 3-0 defeat at Chicago on Feb. 20. Gaborik, though, netted two goals in a 5-2 win there on Jan. 11.
He has 12 goals and 12 assists in 23 career matchups.
Niklas Backstrom, who stopped 27 shots Sunday, has been strong in goal during the Wild's three-game winning streak, allowing five goals on 95 shots after losing three games in a row with a 2.97 goals-against average.
"He's playing better and better," Wild coach Jacques Lemaire told the team's official Web site.
Backstrom had a 27-save shutout in the season-opening victory over the Hawks - his first career start against them.
Chicago, which is six points out of a potential playoff spot, is hoping to have Jonathan Toews back in the lineup after he was elbowed in the mouth by Vancouver's Matt Pettinger during Sunday's 4-1 win, according to the team's official Web site. The rookie center, who has 18 goals and 43 points, is expected to wear facial protection as the Blackhawks go after their eighth win in 11 games.
Before exiting the victory over the Canucks, Toews assisted on the first of two goals by fellow rookie Patrick Kane.
"Every win is huge," said Kane, who also added an assist. "We'll try to do things the right way to get in (to the playoffs)."
Kane, Chicago's leader with 55 points, scored in the last meeting against the Wild as Nikolai Khabibulin made 38 saves for his first shutout. The goaltender, however, has missed the last five games due to back spasms.
If Khabibulin can't play, Patrick Lalime will make his sixth consecutive start. He is 3-2-0 with a 3.74 GAA and a shutout since taking over for the injured Russian netminder.
Lalime has a 3.69 GAA during a personal three-game losing streak to the Wild.