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Posted On Thursday, 04.05.2012 / 12:52 PM

By Dan Myers -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

Cuma set to make NHL debut on Wild blue line

ST. PAUL -- Minnesota defenseman Tyler Cuma will make his National Hockey League debut tonight when the Wild host Chicago at Xcel Energy Center.

Cuma, a first-round pick in 2008, will be the 46th different player to suit up for the Wild this season. He will be the 15th rookie and the ninth to make his NHL debut -- all League highs.

A series of injuries, however, has derailed his track to the NHL, including a knee injury in 2009, after he nearly made the Wild roster out of his first training camp.

Cuma has played in 68 games this season with Houston of the American Hockey League, chipping in offensively with nine assists.

Here is Minnesota's projected lineup:

Dany Heatley - Mikko Koivu - Devin Setoguchi
Cal Clutterbuck - Kyle Brodziak - Darroll Powe
Jason Zucker - Erik Christensen - Nick Johnson
Jed Ortmeyer - Warren Peters - Stephane Veilleux

Tom Gilbert - Nate Prosser
Marco Scandella - Justin Falk
Kurtis Foster - Tyler Cuma

Josh Harding
Niklas Backstrom

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Posted On Saturday, 03.31.2012 / 2:23 PM

By Dan Myers -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

Kings trying to stay on top of Pacific

ST. PAUL, Minn. -- With their hopes for a division title on the line, the Los Angeles Kings look to stay out of the trap that foiled the Florida Panthers here Thursday night at Xcel Energy Center.

Holding a tenuous lead over the Washington Capitals in the Southeast Division, the Panthers led the Wild late Thursday, before surrendering a late goal to Erik Christensen in regulation and another to Mikko Koivu early in overtime, essentially surrendering a point the standings.

Los Angeles, which defeated Edmonton 4-1 on Friday night, now leads the Pacific Division by a single point over both Dallas and Phoenix, and by two points over San Jose. A similar let down by the Kings Saturday would be a crushing blow.

Nobody more than Los Angeles knows the tenuous nature of the Western Conference playoffs. Just 72 hours ago, the Kings were in ninth place on the outside looking in. Saturday night, they begin play in third place and in the catbird's seat in the division.

The Kings scored in a variety of ways Friday in Edmonton, netting a power play goal, a short-handed goal and two even-strength goals. Jonathan Quick made 13 saves in the win, meaning it's likely Jonathan Bernier gets the start in goal against Minnesota tonight. Bernier stopped all 26 shots he faced against the Wild in the Kings' last trip to Minnesota Feb. 28. A win tonight would give them the season series.

The Kings did not arrive in the Twin Cities until 4 a.m. local time and had an optional morning skate. Only defenseman Davis Drewiskie and forward Kevin Westgarth took part.

The Wild also had an optional morning skate after a full practice Friday. Coach Mike Yeo said his team can take advantage of the schedule and jump on the Kings early. But that won't be easy, especially with what's on the line for the visitors.

"If you play the game the right way, and play a game that grinds them down a little more physically, certainly that can play into our favor," Yeo said. "But I don't expect fatigue to be a factor in these last games. These are crucial points for them and they're going to come in here and I expect a really strong effort from them."

The game marks the final contest of a four-game road trip for L.A. Getting the game to overtime would assure the Kings of a winning road-trip. With three games left after tonight -- two of which are at Staples Center -- the Kings control their own destiny.

"We got the two points. That's what we want," Sutter said after beating the Oilers. "All of the games are really important right now."

Minnesota will go with Niklas Backstrom again in goal. He stopped 25 shots, earning his 18th win Thursday over the Panthers -- his first game back after injuring his groin almost a month ago.

On the blueline, the Wild will play without Marco Scandella, who Yeo said is out with a minor upper body injury. Kurtis Foster will skate in his place. Scandella is expected to accompany the team to Chicago for its game there Sunday evening.

Los Angeles, meanwhile, is also likely to be without forward Jeff Carter, who injured his ankle Wednesday in Calgary. He was in a walking boot afterwards and did not play Friday. He is likely to be re-evaluated when the team returns to the West Coast after the game this evening.

Here is the projected lineup for both teams:

WILD

Dany Heatley - Mikko Koivu - Devin Setoguchi
Cal Clutterbuck - Kyle Brodziak - Darroll Powe
Jason Zucker - Erik Christensen - Nick Johnson
Jed Ortmeyer - Warren Peters - Stephane Veilleux

Tom Gilbert - Clayton Stoner
Steven Kampfer - Justin Falk
Kurtis Foster - Nate Prosser

Niklas Backstrom
Josh Harding
 
KINGS

Dustin Brown - Anze Kopitar - Justin Williams
Dwight King - Mike Richards - Colin Fraser
Dustin Penner - Jarret Stoll - Trevor Lewis
Kyle Clifford - Brad Richardson - Jordan Nolan
 
Rob Scuderi - Drew Doughty
Willie Mitchell - Slava Voynov
Alec Martinez - Matt Greene
 
Jonathan Bernier
Jonathan Quick
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Posted On Thursday, 03.29.2012 / 1:52 PM

By Dan Myers -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

Weiss, Panthers nearing a postseason spot

ST. PAUL -- Perhaps it is because the Florida Panthers are based in Miami, but one of the NHL's best teams has flown under the radar all season.

That's fine with forward Stephen Weiss, who is just happy the Panthers are on the radar at all.

Weiss has been a full-timer with Florida since 2005-06 and has played more games in a Panthers sweater than anyone in franchise history. He's never played in a playoff game as a NHL player.

That could change if the Panthers continue to take care of business. With six games remaining, Florida leads Washington by five points in the Southeast Division and is on the verge of winning its first division title in history.

"It's what it's all about, being in the mix this time of year. Haven't done it too many times in years past," Weiss said. "Playing in big hockey games, it's a lot of fun."

Because the Panthers don't play in a traditional hockey market, little has been said about Florida lately. It is a team with a lot of known, and unknown, talent, but more has probably been written about their opponent Thursday, the Wild, and their historic collapse.

That's fine with Weiss though. He said he enjoys avoiding the headlines.

"We're not worried about what other people think," Weiss said. "We knew it was going to be like that all year. We're content flying under the radar and just going about our business and winning hockey games.

"Hopefully we can continue to do that over the last six games and get into the playoffs. Maybe then, we'll get a little bit of respect."

Panthers coach Kevin Dineen says it would mean a lot to the franchise to get back to the playoffs, especially for a guy like Weiss.

"He takes a lot of pride in wearing the Panther uniform," Dineen said. "He's a large part of our identity. Certainly, he's suffered some games this time of year that have not been relevant. I think he's enjoying this process right now and I think his teammates are enjoying it for him as well."

Weiss credited his teammates, coaching staff and front office for making this season's run possible, saying it would be big for the South Florida hockey community as well.

"It would mean a lot. Not having success over the years, to bring it together that quickly, if we can manage to get it done, it would be huge," Weiss said.

In the lineup tonight will be former Wild forward John Madden. The veteran didn't play Tuesday at Montreal, but will replace Mikael Samuelsson.

Madden scored 12 goals and 13 assists as a member of the Wild last season. He has two goals in 25 games with Florida this year.
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Posted On Thursday, 03.29.2012 / 1:45 PM

By Dan Myers -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

Projected lineups for Wild-Panthers contest

ST. PAUL -- Here are projected lines for tonight's game between the Minnesota Wild and Florida Panthers:

WILD
Dany Heatley - Mikko Koivu - Devin Setoguchi
Cal Clutterbuck - Kyle Brodziak - Darroll Powe
Jason Zucker - Erik Christensen - Nick Johnson
Jed Ortmeyer - Warren Peters - Stephane Veilleux

Marco Scandella - Tom Gilbert
Clayton Stoner - Steven Kampfer
Justin Falk - Nate Prosser

Niklas Backstrom
Josh Harding

PANTHERS
Tomas Fleischmann - Stephen Weiss - Tomas Kopecky
Wojtek Wolski - Shawn Matthias - Kris Versteeg
Sean Bergenheim - Marcel Goc - John Madden
Scottie Upshall - Jerred Smithson - Marco Sturm

Brian Campbell - Jason Garrison
Mike Weaver - Dmitry Kulikov
Erik Gudbranson - Ed Jovanovski

Jose Theodore
Scott Clemmensen
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Posted On Thursday, 03.29.2012 / 1:24 PM

By Dan Myers -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

Zucker will make NHL debut for Wild

ST. PAUL -- With their playoff hopes dashed, it's nights like tonight Wild fans have been waiting for for weeks, as Minnesota faces off with the Florida Panthers at Xcel Energy Center.

Rookie left wing Jason Zucker, a Wild second-round pick in 2010, will make his NHL debut in front of the home crowd this evening, in a building he is very familiar with.

Just six days ago, Zucker played in his final collegiate hockey game in the NCAA Tournament as a member of the University of Denver. Two weeks ago to the day, Zucker scored the game-winning goal, in this building, as the Pioneers defeated Michigan Tech University in the WCHA Final Five.

Asked that day if he had planned on turning pro after the season, Zucker said he wasn't sure. Little did he know he'd be making his big-league debut in the same arena just 14 days later.

"I actually slept better than I thought," Zucker said.

Wild coach Mike Yeo said he doesn't have any expectations from Zucker, either high or low. He will play tonight next to playmaking center Erik Christensen and fellow rookie Nick Johnson, whose speed should play well with Zucker's.

"This is an incredible experience for him," Yeo said of Minnesota's final six games. "It will be what he makes of it, that's for sure."

The Wild will go with Niklas Backstrom, who is finally recovered from a litany of dings, most recently a groin. He has backed up Josh Harding some recently, including Tuesday night's loss to the Rangers. Backstrom hasn't played since Mar. 1 in Montreal, when he left after just 2:52 with an injury.

Minnesota will also get back defenseman Justin Falk back from a leg injury. He hasn't played since March 4 against Colorado. His return will push Kurtis Foster out of the lineup.
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Posted On Tuesday, 03.27.2012 / 1:52 PM

By Dan Myers -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

Gaborik back in Minnesota as Rangers cling to first

ST. PAUL -- Marian Gaborik returns to Minnesota for the second time as a member of the Rangers on Tuesday night when New York faces off with the Wild at Xcel Energy Center.

The worries of Gaborik's current team and his former one are completely different as both teams hurdle down the stretch.

New York enters the day just one point ahead of Pittsburgh in the Atlantic Division and the top spot in the Eastern Conference. The Penguins have gained points in nine of their last 10 games, winning eight of those contests.

"Of course we want to stay there, home-ice advantage is good and you definitely want that during the playoffs," said Rangers forward Brandon Prust. "We're just worrying about ourselves right now, taking this one game at a time and keep getting wins."

Gaborik's return will not be as dramatic as his first one last season, a game where he posted an assist and a minus-2 rating. Time has indeed eased the nerves for Gaborik as he returns to the building where he spent much of the first part of his career. He remains the Wild's all-time leader in goals (219), assists (218), points (437), power-play goals (59), game-winning goals (43) and 30-goal seasons (5).

"It's always special to come to this building," Gaborik said. "The first time, I was a little more nervous. Now, it feels a little different. They have great fans here and it's a special place."

What could be the biggest test for the Rangers is their compete level against a Wild team already eliminated from playoff contention. Prust said the Rangers are prepared to bring their best effort.

"We have to be ready. Sometimes, these are the games that bite you," Prust said. "You take your foot off the gas or something, but there's no room for that anymore. We all know that. And we have to be in playoff mode every game right now."

Tuesday's game also marks a homecoming for three other Rangers who are from the area, including defensemen Ryan McDonagh (St. Paul), Stu Bickel (Chanhassen) and Derek Stepan (St. Paul). All three have played in the building during their college years while McDonagh won a state championship here during his junior year in high school at Cretin-Derham Hall.  

Among those in attendance will be McDonagh's high school coach Jim O'Neill and 20 of Stepan's closest family and friends.

Minnesota, meanwhile, is struggling to do much of anything right, having lost two straight road contests over the weekend after winning their final two games of a five-game homestand last week.

While the Rangers battle for the Presidents' Trophy, the Wild are locked in a battle for the second-best odds in the April 10 NHL Draft Lottery, leading Montreal and Edmonton by just a point in the standings.

After playing Buffalo and Washington over the weekend, Minnesota plays four more games this week and seven overall -- all against teams currently in the playoff picture.

"These are important points for them," said Wild coach Mike Yeo. "I don't think we're playing a whole lot of teams right now that aren't saying 'We have to win that game.' I'm pretty sure they're saying that [in the Rangers room] right now."

To steal a win, like they did last week in victories over Vancouver and Calgary, the Wild need to score more goals. At just 2.01 goals per game, Minnesota is dead last in the NHL in total offense. It's 3-0 loss to the Capitals on Sunday marked the fifth time in the last 13 games the team was shutout.

More importantly, but perhaps not surprisingly, the loss mathematically eliminated the Wild from playoff contention. Now, all that's left, is playing for pride.

"It's a personal thing for us," said Wild winger Cal Clutterbuck. "We're not going to go down without a fight. We're not that type of group. We've had some unfortunate circumstances and some things unravel for us. It's disappointing. It's not something we're happy about."

Minnesota also announced veteran center Matt Cullen, who injured his right index finger in Saturday's loss to Buffalo, will undergo season-ending surgery to repair the injury.

Chad Rau, called up in his place, will remain in Minnesota for the rest of the season. Also back in the lineup, although in a backup role, is goaltender Niklas Backstrom. Matt Hackett was sent back to AHL Houston to make room.

Here's the projected lineups for tonight's game:

WILD

Dany Heatley - Mikko Koivu - Devin Setoguchi
Cal Clutterbuck - Chad Rau - Erik Christensen
Darroll Powe - Kyle Brodziak - Nick Johnson
Jed Ortmeyer - Warren Peters - Stephane Veilleux

Marco Scandella - Tom Gilbert
Kurtis Foster - Steven Kampfer
Clayton Stoner - Nate Prosser

Josh Harding
Niklas Backstrom

RANGERS
Carl Hagelin - Brad Richards - Marian Gaborik
Brandon Dubinsky - Derek Stepan - Ryan Callahan
Artem Anisimov - Brian Boyle - Ruslan Fedotenko
Brandon Prust - John Mitchell - Mike Rupp
 
Ryan McDonagh - Dan Girardi
Marc Staal - Michael Del Zotto
Anton Stralman - Stu Bickel
 
Henrik Lundqvist
Martin Biron
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Posted On Thursday, 03.22.2012 / 1:44 PM

By Dan Myers -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

Projected lineups for Wild, Flames

ST. PAUL -- Here are the projected lineups for tonight's game between the Calgary Flames and Minnesota Wild at Xcel Energy Center:

WILD
Dany Heatley - Mikko Koivu - Devin Setoguchi
Cal Clutterbuck - Matt Cullen - Erik Christensen
Darroll Powe - Kyle Brodziak - Nick Johnson
Jed Ortmeyer - Warren Peters - Stephane Veilleux

Marco Scandella - Jared Spurgeon
Tom Gilbert - Steven Kampfer
Clayton Stoner - Nate Prosser

Josh Harding
Niklas Backstrom

FLAMES
Alex Tanguay - Matt Stajan - Jarome Iginla
Curtis Glencross - Olli Jokinen - David Moss
Lee Stempniak - Blair Jones - Blake Comeau
Tom Kostopoulos - Lance Bouma - Tim Jackman

Jay Bouwmeester - Chris Butler
Mark Giordano - Scott Hannan
Anton Babchuk - Derek Smith

Miikka Kiprusoff
Henrik Karlsson
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Posted On Thursday, 03.22.2012 / 1:38 PM

By Dan Myers -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

Flames get bodies back, look to end skid

ST. PAUL -- Just three points currently separate five teams in the Western Conference playoff race entering tonight's action, with Calgary at the back of the bunch.

That makes getting a victory over the sliding Minnesota Wild at Xcel Energy Center all the more important.

After losing the opening game of the season against Minnesota, Calgary has won the last four meetings, including one here just two Sundays ago.

The Flames trail seventh place Colorado by three points and eighth place Los Angeles by two. Phoenix is tied with L.A. at 84 points while San Jose and Calgary each have 82 points.

Calgary will get back three players who have missed significant time due to injury. Defenseman Chris Butler, who has missed a month with a skate cut, will replace Cory Sarich, who flew back to Alberta after the Flames' loss at Colorado on Tuesday. Sarich sustained an upper-body injury and was flown home for further evaluation.

Also back will be forwards Lance Bouma and Blair Jones. Bouma has been out since sustaining an upper-body injury March 4, while Jones has been out since Feb. 9 with an ankle injury.

"At the end of the day, I was hoping these guys would all be ready to go by the end of this trip," Flames coach Brent Sutter said. "Tonight's the night, so we'll be putting all three of them in."

If Calgary is to get two points this evening, the Flames will need to break out of their offensive mini-slump. They've scored just one goal in each of their last three games, and not surprisingly have lost all three. With only two road games remaining on the schedule after tonight, both against division leaders, tonight's game could be as close to a must-win as there is this time of year.

"We've been trying to get pucks [to the net] and bodies there," Flames forward David Moss said. "When you do that consistently, pucks will find a way to go in. They haven't the past few games, but we need to stick with it."
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Posted On Thursday, 03.22.2012 / 1:22 PM

By Dan Myers -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

Wild get their captain back as Koivu returns

ST. PAUL -- Seeking their first back-to-back victories in a month, the Minnesota Wild welcome back captain Mikko Koivu to the lineup for tonight's game against the Calgary Flames.

Minnesota, coming off an impressive 2-0 victory over Vancouver Monday night, hasn't won back-to-back games at home since the week of Thanksgiving. If the Wild put forth a similar effort tonight as they did against the Canucks, they should have that opportunity.

"Attention to detail and a real purpose in the way that we play the game," Wild coach Mike Yeo said about the keys to victory. "We spent a great deal of time about preparation. It's not an easy thing when things haven't gone well. Preparation is not a matter of telling yourself you want to play really good or really well. It's concentrating on things you have to do in that game and putting those thoughts in your head so you're ready to go execute them once game-time starts."

That lack of focus recently has resulted in losses, including three in a row at home prior to Monday's win. If the Wild win tonight, they will salvage two victories on their current five-game homestand, before heading east for games in Buffalo and Washington this weekend.

That's where Koivu's return will come in handy. His injured shoulder has kept him from the last 15 games, and 23 out of 27. Koivu will be inserted right back onto the team's top-line, looking to spark winger Dany Heatley, who has scored just 1 goal in his last 15 games.

"We're just extremely excited to have him back," Yeo said. "As far as what he means to the team, it's hard to measure because there are so many intangibles within the game and the way he plays it."

Koivu's presence also helps bring some stability to Minnesota's lines, which have fluctuated a great deal without the top-line center. Some nights, Matt Cullen has been on the first line, while others have seen Kyle Brodziak. With Koivu back, Cullen will be slotted on the second line while Brodziak moves to the third -- where those two began the season, and where they played when the Wild were atop the NHL standings as late as mid-December.

Having Brodziak on the third line gives the Wild three lines with a scoring threat instead of just one or two.

"Brodzy's had a good year because he hasn't changed his role," Yeo said of Brodziak, who already has established a new career high in points. "There's been more focus on him and probably more pressure on him to contribute offensively, but what I like is his game didn't change. He just has to go out and continue to do the same thing he's been doing all year long."
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Posted On Monday, 03.19.2012 / 2:02 PM

By Dan Myers -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

Numbers point to Schneider starting for Canucks

ST. PAUL, Minn. -- Vancouver goaltender Cory Schneider will get a second consecutive start for the Canucks when they play at Minnesota on Monday.

For Schneider, it will be the fifth straight time he has started for Vancouver in St. Paul. Lifetime against the Wild, he is 5-2-0 with a 2.16 goals-against average and a .917 save percentage -- the latter two figures significantly better than Roberto Luongo, who has struggled mightily in this building. Luongo has shut out the Wild on three consecutive occasions, but all of those games were at Rogers Centre.

"I always feel comfortable on the road, I enjoy playing on the road," Schneider said. "(The Wild) are going through a tough time right now, but they've always given us trouble in this building. You can never expect them to lay down."

Schneider, who turned 26 on Sunday, is in the midst of a career season, going 16-6-1 with a 2.12 GAA  and .932 save percentage.

"Flying to Minneapolis," Schneider said when asked how he spent his birthday. And afterwards? "Not much. Just dinner and relaxed."

The Canucks will make a couple of other tweaks to the lineup, as Vancouver will get Manny Malhotra back after he missed two games for personal reasons. He will take the place of Mason Raymond.

"He's struggling a little bit right now," Canucks coach Alain Vigneault said of Raymond. "We've tried different possibilities with him. He can be such a valuable player on our team when he's playing his skilled game, being strong on the ice and using that skill and that speed. Right now, we're just having a tough time helping him find the players he can have the most success with."

Vigneault also said defenseman Sami Salo will not play. With the Canucks embarking on a four-game road trip, Vigneault figures tonight's game against 13th-place Minnesota would provide him with the best opportunity to give Salo a rest. Chicago, Dallas and Colorado are the final three stops on the trip and all are in the playoff race.

"He's such an important part of our team," Vigneault said. "Probably our best overall defenseman in terms of being able to contribute offensively and defensively. That combined with the fact that he is our oldest player.

"I had a chat with him a couple of times that if the opportunity or schedule would get to a point maybe we could get him a night off, it would be the right thing to do."

Minnesota had an optional skate this morning with several players expected to play tonight not in attendance. The team did send goalie Matt Hackett back to AHL Houston to make room for injured goaltender Niklas Backstrom, who is back from a lower-body injury.

Backstrom will back up Josh Harding in goal this evening.

Here are the projected lineups for each team tonight:

WILD
Dany Heatley - Kyle Brodziak - Devin Setoguchi
Cal Clutterbuck - Matt Cullen - Nick Johnson
Darroll Powe - Erik Christensen - Matt Kassian
Stephane Veilleux - Warren Peters - Jed Ortmeyer

Marco Scandella - Jared Spurgeon
Steven Kampfer - Tom Gilbert
Clayton Stoner - Nate Prosser

Josh Harding will start in net, with Niklas Backstrom the backup.
 
CANUCKS
Daniel Sedin - Henrik Sedin - Alexandre Burrows
Chris Higgins - Ryan Kesler - David Booth
Manny Malhotra - Samuel Pahlsson - Jannik Hansen
Dale Weise - Maxim Lapierre - Zack Kassian
 
Alexander Edler - Kevin Bieksa
Dan Hamhuis - Marc-Andre Gragnani
Aaron Rome - Chris Tanev
 
Cory Schneider will start in goal, with Roberto Luongo the backup.
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Quote of the Day

I've got a lot of experience and there's a lot of young guys. It's even making me excited a little more. It's kind of a new life. At my age, I feel like I know a lot of things what to do, but I just cannot do it anymore. It's a lot easier to tell them what to do because they've still got the legs and hands to do it. I just know things, but I cannot do them anymore.

— Jaromir Jagr after making his Panthers debut in a win against the Sabres on Saturday