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Minnesota Wild players celebrate a goal scored by Cal Clutterbuck, right, during a preseason international game against Finland Monday in Tampere, Finland. The Wild open the regular season today against the Carolina Hurricanes in Helsinki, Finland. (Associated Press)

Wild hopes Helsinki is good omen

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By Marius Turula, Associated Press Writer

HELSINKI -- The Carolina Hurricanes and Minnesota Wild are looking on the bright side at starting the NHL season more than 4,000 miles from home in the capital of Finland.

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Scandinavia has been good for NHL teams.

The Pittsburgh Penguins opened their season in Stockholm in 2008 and won the Stanley Cup last year. The Chicago Blackhawks visited Hartwall Arena -- the same venue hosting the Hurricanes and Wild on Thursday and Friday -- a year ago and ended up winning their first cup in 49 years.

The Wild could do with a positive sign after a winless preseason against NHL teams. They finally won a warmup game -- their last -- on Monday against lowly Finnish league team Ilves.

Being the home team in Helsinki first up might also boost the Wild. They made a disastrous start last year with a heavily road-weighted schedule (0-8 on the road, 3-9 overall). This time, eight of their first 12 games are at home, where they have sold out Xcel Energy Center for an NHL-record 409 consecutive games.

Carolina lost its last preseason game in St. Petersburg, Russia, 5-3 in a game that was more like the NHL, with a few scuffles. A little fighting wouldn't displease Finnish fans, for whose support is yet to be determined.

"People sit quite silent here when they don't have a team to cheer for," said Minnesota captain Mikko Koivu, a center from Sweden and the kid brother of former Montreal captain Saku Koivu. He's joined by fellow Swedes Antti Miettinen and goalie Nicklas Backstrom.

Hartwall Arena is also familiar to Marek Zidlicky, the Wild defenseman from the Czech Republic who played for Helsinki club IFK in 1999.

"I really like to be in Helsinki again. I like the town," he said. "The time here was a big steppingstone for me and the hockey played here sent me to the NHL. I have but good memories."

The Hurricanes feature forward Jussi Jokinen, the tough Tuomo Ruutu and Joni Pitkanen, who logged the most ice time among NHL defensemen last season.

Ruutu and Jokinen could be joined on their line by 18-year-old Jeff Skinner, the Hurricanes' first-round pick in the NHL draft.

"Skinner is a skilled player," Ruutu said. "Amazing that those kind of guys come straight out from the juniors."

Carolina coach Paul Maurice said Wednesday his team was ready to open the season.

"I'm comfortable with where we're at," he said. "The focus and the communication on the ice and all of the things that we had set out at the start of camp to be good at, we're still good at."

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