ST. PAUL, Minn. -- Minnesota Wild defenseman Keith Ballard will return to the lineup Tuesday in Game 6 of their Western Conference Second Round series against the Chicago Blackhawks at Xcel Energy Center (9 p.m. ET; CNBC, TSN, RDS2).
Chicago leads the best-of-7 series 3-2.
Ballard was injured late in the second period of Game 4 when he was hit from behind by Blackhawks forward Brandon Bollig. Ballard left the game with an upper-body injury and did not return. Bollig was assessed a two-minute minor for boarding, and was later suspended for two games by the NHL Department of Player Safety. Bollig will serve the second game of that suspension Tuesday.
Ballard has a history of concussions, including one that cost him seven games in October of this season, but did not say whether he sustained one this time around.
"I feel fine, I've felt fine for a couple of days," Ballard said. "We were trying to be pretty smart about it. There's no chance that I'd play if I had symptoms. I've been through that before and been down that road a couple times.
"I don't want to put myself in a position where in 10 years, I can't remember [my kids'] names."
ST. PAUL, Minn. -- The Minnesota Wild have their backs against the wall yet again.
A 2-1 loss to the Chicago Blackhawks in Game 5 of their Western Conference Second Round series Sunday night in Chicago has the Wild one game away from elimination for the third time in these Stanley Cup Playoffs.
For Wild defenseman Ryan Suter, it's been more than that. Twice in these playoffs, Minnesota has trailed in a series 2-0. Each time, Suter said Game 3 was like a must-win too.
ST. PAUL, Minn. -- For the second time in these Stanley Cup Playoffs, the Minnesota Wild have battled back from a 2-0 series deficit by winning consecutive games at home.
A 4-2 win in Game 4 on Friday means their second-round series against the Chicago Blackhawks will go back to the United Center tied 2-2 with Game 5 on Sunday (9 p.m. ET; CNBC, TSN, RDS2).
The Wild are 1-5 away from Xcel Energy Center in the postseason, and now the job is to take whatever is working at home, where Minnesota is 5-0 in the playoffs, and carry it with them to Chicago.
"Thinking back to Games 1 and 2, I said at that time it's not like we were that far off," Wild coach Mike Yeo said. "We knew we could play a little bit better and I think we've picked our game up since then."
Ballard retreated into his defensive zone to retrieve a loose puck when he was hit from behind in the left corner by Blackhawks forward Brandon Bollig. Ballard, who appeared to hit his face and head on the glass, was slow to get to his skates but skated off the ice under his own power and went down the tunnel to the dressing room.
Bollig was assessed a two-minute minor penalty for boarding.
ST. PAUL, Minn. -- Minnesota Wild forward Matt Cooke will rejoin the lineup for Game 4 on Friday against the Chicago Blackhawks (9:30 p.m. ET; NBCSN, TSN, RDS) when the Wild will try to even the Western Conference Second Round series.
Moulson, it was revealed, has been playing through a lower-body injury and Wild coach Mike Yeo said Thursday the two-day break between Games 3 and 4 has been good to give Moulson a couple days away to heal. Yeo said he doesn't expect Moulson to play in Game 4, but he could return shortly after.
"It's an opportunity for us to give a couple days here, at least," Yeo said. "Not skating yesterday, keeping him off the ice today and give him a chance to get better."
ST. PAUL, Minn. -- For one night, at least, Ilya Bryzgalov could breathe easy. The much-maligned, sometimes controversial Minnesota Wild goaltender put in a solid night of work in Game 3 of their Western Conference Second Round series against the Chicago Blackhawks, stopping all 19 shots he faced in a 4-0 win.
The victory pulled the Wild to within 2-1 of the Blackhawks in the best-of-7 series, and temporarily silenced many of his critics. Asked about his first shutout in the Stanley Cup Playoffs in almost eight years, Bryzgalov replied sarcastically.
"Thanks for reminding me. It's been a while," he said.
ST. PAUL, Minn. -- The Minnesota Wild will get veteran defenseman Keith Ballard back for Game 3 of their Western Conference Second Round series against the Chicago Blackhawks on Tuesday at Xcel Energy Center (9 p.m. ET; CNBC, TSN, RDS2).
Ballard, who has missed the better part of two months with a groin injury, will get into the lineup in place of Nate Prosser, who will be a healthy scratch for the first time since Ballard's prior game, March 17 against the Boston Bruins. Ballard missed the final 14 games of the regular season, all seven games of the Wild's first-round series against the Colorado Avalanche, and the first two games of this series.
"It's been a bit," Ballard said. "But I'm excited to play. Excited to get back in. I've been feeling good for about the last week-and-a-half or so. A lot of rehab to get the strength back in my leg and be feeling good."
ST. PAUL, Minn. -- Trailing 2-0 in their Western Conference Second Round series against the Chicago Blackhawks, the Minnesota Wild return to Xcel Energy Center in a familiar spot.
The Wild came home in the first round against the Colorado Avalanche down two games as well, although this time around, Minnesota trails a team that isn't young and inexperienced like the Avalanche. Instead, if any team can claim to have "been there and done that," it's the Blackhawks, winners of two Stanley Cups in the past four years.
They're also down to a team that, going back to last season, has beaten them in six of their past seven playoff games.
ST. PAUL, Minn. — It's not hard to envision a scenario where the Minnesota Wild are winning their Stanley Cup Playoff series against the Colorado Avalanche and advancing to the second round.
Instead, the Avalanche have a chance to eliminate the Wild with a win in Game 6 Monday at Xcel Energy Center (9 p.m. ET; CNBC, TSN, RDS2, ALT, FS-N).
Minnesota has had two chances to close out late wins at Pepsi Center and allowed Colorado to tie the score -- and win in overtime -- on each occasion. In Game 1, the Wild led late until Paul Stastny scored with 13.4 seconds remaining. In Game 5 on Saturday, it was PA Parenteau tying the game with 1:14 left in regulation.
That lack of production doomed them to a 4-1 series loss to the eventual Stanley Cup champions.
This year, tied 2-2 in a best-of-7 Western Conference First Round series against the Colorado Avalanche, Parise, Koivu and Pominville have zero goals. Trade-deadline acquisition Matt Moulson, a three-time 30-goal scorer, also has yet to score. Despite that, Minnesota's secondary scoring has emerged as the series heads back to Denver for Game 5 on Saturday at Pepsi Center (9:30 p.m. ET; NBCSN, RDS, TSN, FS-N, ALT).
ST. PAUL, Minn. -- Game 4 of the Western Conference First Round series between the Minnesota Wild and Colorado Avalanche has been a subplot the past 48 hours with fallout from the knee-on-knee hit by Wild forward Matt Cooke on Avalanche defenseman Tyson Barrie taking center stage.
It was announced after Game 3, played Monday, that Barrie would miss at least a month with an MCL injury in his left knee. Wednesday, Cooke was suspended for seven games for kneeing by the NHL Department of Player Safety.
An extra day off between Games 3 and 4 allowed for more talk about the hit.
"It's amazing isn't it, just one extra day between games in the playoffs, it feels like a week," Wild coach Mike Yeo said.
Game 4 takes place Thursday at Xcel Energy Center (9:30 p.m. ET; CNBC, TSN2, RDS2, ALT, FS-N, FS-WI). Colorado leads the best-of-7 series 2-1.
ST. PAUL, Minn. -- Colorado Avalanche forward Joey Hishon will make his NHL debut in Game 4 of their Western Conference First Round series against the Minnesota Wild on Thursday at Xcel Energy Center (9:30 p.m. ET; CNBC, TSN2, RDS2, ALT, FS-N, FS-WI).
Hishon, Colorado's first-round pick (No. 17) in the 2010 NHL Draft, was skating with the team's American Hockey League affiliate on Tuesday in Cleveland. He got a call afterward that he had been recalled.
"Can't even explain the emotion," Hishon said Wednesday. "Very anxious, very excited, I'm just happy to be here."
ST. PAUL, Minn. -- The Minnesota Wild will count on two rookies and a 21-year old in a major defensive role in Game 4 of their Western Conference First Round series against the Colorado Avalanche on Thursday at Xcel Energy Center (9:30 p.m. ET; CNBC, TSN2, RDS2, ALT- FS-N, FS-WI).
ST. PAUL, Minn. -- The Minnesota Wild will likely be without a key member of their lineup Thursday when they host the Colorado Avalanche in Game 4 of their Western Conference First Round series.
Wild forward Matt Cooke is facing a hearing in New York on Wednesday with the NHL Department of Player Safety for a knee-on-knee hit on Avalanche defenseman Tyson Barrie in Game 3 on Monday.
Cooke has a history of being disciplined by the League, having been suspended five times since 2004. But the last time he was punished was March 2011 for an elbow to New York Rangers defenseman Ryan McDonagh.
Signed by the Wild last summer as a free agent after five seasons with the Pittsburgh Penguins, Cooke did not have a major penalty in 82 games this season. He's also developed into a leader in the Wild locker room as one of two players on the Minnesota roster with his name on the Stanley Cup.
"He's an important player to our team, there's no question," Wild coach Mike Yeo said. "There's a reason why he was brought here and physicality is only a very small part of it. It's his leadership, his experience, his role as a penalty-killer and as a checking forward. Certainly, it's a loss for our lineup."
ST. PAUL, Minn. -- In the span of just over a year, Minnesota Wild forward Mikael Granlund has gone from hyped rookie, to disappointment, to pleasant surprise, to on-ice leader.
Granlund scored the game-winning goal 5:08 into overtime Monday in Game 3 of their Western Conference First Round Playoff series against the Colorado Avalanche. His goal breathed new life into the Wild, who trail the best-of-7 series 2-1.
Game 4 is Thursday at Xcel Energy Center (9:30 p.m. ET; CNBC, TSN2, RDS2, ALT, FS-N, FS-WI).
ST. PAUL, Minn. -- The Colorado Avalanche have overcome a number of injuries to crucial players all season. Now, in a Western Conference First Round series against the Minnesota Wild, the Central Division champions will have to do it again.
The Avalanche will be without defenseman Tyson Barrie for the remainder of the series and beyond after a knee-to-knee hit from Wild forward Matt Cooke in Game 3 on Monday. Barrie is expected to be sidelined 4-6 weeks.
Game 4 is Thursday at Xcel Energy Center (9:30 p.m. ET; CNBC, TSN2, RDS2, ALT, FS-N, FS-WI).
A little more than two minutes into the second period of a scoreless game, Cooke tried to finish an open-ice check on Barrie near the Wild bench. Their left knees collided and Barrie remained on the ice for a short time. He got to the bench on his own, but was not able to put weight on the leg as he skated off, then went down the tunnel to the locker room.
Minnesota won, 1-0 in overtime, and trails the best-of-7 series 2-1.
Barrie's loss is a big one for the Avalanche, already playing without forwards Matt Duchene (knee) and John Mitchell (concussion).
"Without a doubt, an important player to our team," Avalanche coach Patrick Roy said. "He's very good on the power play, but more than that, he's always in the rush."
ST. PAUL, Minn. -- The Minnesota Wild will make several lineup changes for Game 3 of their Western Conference First Round series against the Colorado Avalanche on Monday at Xcel Energy Center (7 p.m. ET; NHLN-US, TSN, RDS, ALT, FS-N).
Colorado leads the best-of-7 series 2-0.
Rookie Darcy Kuemper will make his first start in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Kuemper relieved starterIlya Bryzgalov in the second period of a 4-2 loss in Game 2 on Saturday and stopped all 14 shots he faced. He also appeared in two Stanley Cup Playoff games last year in relief of Josh Harding.
"It's not just the saves he's making, but the way he's making saves," coach Mike Yeo said. "He looked really confident in practice."
ST. PAUL, Minn. --Colorado Avalanche forward Matt Duchene skated on his own during the morning skate Monday prior to Game 3 of their Western Conference First Round series against the Minnesota Wild at Xcel Energy Center.
It was Duchene's first time on the ice since sustaining an injury to the MCL in his left knee March 29 against the San Jose Sharks.
Duchene missed the final eight games of the regular season with the ailment, but still led the Avalanche with 47 assists and 70 points this season.
"It was part of the process," Avalanche coach Patrick Roy said. "The trainer thought it was a good time for him to start skating today. We'll go day-to-day with him."
Colorado leads the Western Conference First Round series 2-0 as it shifts to Minnesota, where Yeo will have last change and the chance to match up against that line how he pleases. Although the Wild coach wouldn't divulge his plan, it's been his third line tasked with the tough matchups all season.
"We were able to get those guys out there quite a bit in the first game," Yeo said. "It's obviously a possibility that we'll assemble a line that we'll assign the task of making sure that you're going out there and doing the job against those guys."
ST. PAUL, Minn. -- The Minnesota Wild could be on the verge of getting two key players back from injury in time for their first-round Stanley Cup Playoff series against the Colorado Avalanche. Game 1 is Thursday at Pepsi Center in Denver (9:30 p.m. ET; CNBC, TSN).
Center Mikael Granlund and goaltender Darcy Kuemper participated in a full practice Tuesday for the first time in two weeks. Each was injured on March 31, Kuemper during the Wild's morning skate, and Granlund in the second period against the Los Angeles Kings that night.
Granlund, who sustained an upper-body injury when he ran into Kings forward Jarrett Stoll, began skating on his own late last week. For Kuemper, who sustained an upper-body injury, the practice Tuesday was his second time on the ice.
"I feel good," Granlund said. "Let's just say it was a good day again and, yeah, we'll see. I felt really good."
ST. PAUL, Minn. -- With their position in the Stanley Cup Playoffs secure, the Minnesota Wild will play seven defensemen Sunday in their final regular season game against the Nashville Predators.
Forward Kyle Brodziak is out with a minor lower-body injury. Coach Mike Yeo said Brodziak could have played through the ailment, but the extra days off should put Brodziak at close to full strength.
"He certainly could have played but we just want to give him every opportunity to be 100 percent," Yeo said.
With Brodziak out, the Wild will slide wing Nino Niederreiter to center and suit up defenseman Clayton Stoner, who has missed the past 10 games with a knee injury. Otherwise, the Wild are not expected to rest any key players. Minnesota is 6-0-1 in its past seven games and Yeo wants the Wild to keep their current edge.
Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said Backes could be out for the rest of the regular season but expects him back in time for the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
"It's an opportunity for guys to step forward," Hitchcock said.
Wild defenseman Christian Folin will make his NHL debut. Folin, who two weeks ago was playing at the University of Massachusetts-Lowell, was generally considered the top college free agent available following the season. He had interest from nearly every team in the NHL but chose the Wild over the Philadelphia Flyers, signing a two-year entry-level contract with Minnesota on March 31.
ST. PAUL, Minn. -- The Minnesota Wild are on the verge of clinching a berth in the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the second straight year and could wrap up the top wild-card spot in the Western Conference as early as Tuesday against the Boston Bruins.
One win or post-regulation loss in any of their final three games would get the job done. So would one regulation or post-regulation loss by the Phoenix Coyotes. Even a post-regulation win by the Coyotes would get it done.
Minnesota's magic number to clinch a berth is one point, so the number of clinching scenarios are plentiful. But coach Mike Yeo said he'd prefer to keep it as simple as possible: Win tonight against the NHL's best team and the Wild not only clinch a playoff spot, they lock in the top wild-card position.
"Hopefully the experience of last year has helped us, and I think it has," Yeo said. "We just need to concentrate on the game. That's just another one of those end results."
The Penguins recalled former Wild forward Andrew Ebbett from Wilkes-Barre/Scranton of the American Hockey League on Friday and he will play against his former team. Ebbett has 12 goals and 25 assists with Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, where he is riding an 11-game point streak dating to March 7.
Ebbett has played in seven games with Pittsburgh this season and has one assist. He scored eight goals and 14 points in his only season with the Wild in 2009-10.
Bylsma said he didn't believe Jokinen's injury was serious and he is considered day-to-day. With the Metropolitan Division clinched and their positioning for the Stanley Cup Playoffs virtually locked, Bylsma said getting Jokinen healthy for the playoffs is the primary concern.
Instead, the Wild will continue to play musical chairs, which is what Yeo has done since returning from the break for the 2014 Sochi Olympics. Against the New York Rangers on Thursday at Xcel Energy Center, it's Nate Prosser's turn to sit in the press box. Clayton Stoner, who sat Tuesday, will be paired with Keith Ballard, who was a healthy scratch Sunday.
"We said we were going to go through this rotation a couple of times here and just kind of re-evaluate it after that," Yeo said.
Cooke will become the 286th player in NHL history to reach the 1,000 games and the fourth to do it as a member of the Wild. Prior to the game, Cooke will receive a silver stick from the Wild and a crystal from NHL executive Jim Gregory.
"I never would have guessed it way back when I started this," Cooke, 35, said. "It's been a roller coaster at times, but I'm thankful for where I'm at. It's a big accomplishment for me."
Bryzgalov, acquired from the Edmonton Oilers in exchange for a fourth-round draft pick, was 5-8-5 with a 3.01 goals-against average and .908 save percentage in 20 appearances with the Oilers this season. The Wild, playing the second-half of back-to-back games, lost 4-3 to the Dallas Stars on Saturday. Rookie goaltender Darcy Kuemper made his 16th consecutive start in goal and the Wild will play 19 games in 36 days to finish the season.
ST. PAUL, Minn. -- Riding a four-game winning streak, the Minnesota Wild will get a couple of key contributors back from injury Monday when they play the Calgary Flames at Xcel Energy Center.
Captain Mikko Koivu, who has missed 17 games with a fractured ankle, and defenseman Marco Scandella, who missed three games with a sprained knee, will join a team that is already playing some of its best hockey of the season.
ST. PAUL, Minn. --Nashville Predators general manager David Poile was hit in the head with a puck at the team's morning skate Thursday prior to the game against the Minnesota Wild at Xcel Energy Center.
Poile, who will serve as GM of the United States Olympic Team next week at the 2014 Sochi Olympics, was taken from the locker room on a stretcher by paramedics and transported to the hospital.
Poile appeared to be groggy with a bloody nose and a black eye, but was conscious and able to walk to the stretcher with some help.
A statement released by the team said Poile "will remain in the hospital overnight for observation and evaluation, and further information will be released as it becomes available."
ST. PAUL, Minn. -- The Minnesota Wild play their final game before the Olympic break Thursday against the Nashville Predators and the focus is squarely on not losing focus. The Predators are playing well of late and trail the Wild by eight points in the Western Conference wild-card standings.
Nashville has one more game before the break, Saturday against the Anaheim Ducks, to gain even more ground should they win Thursday.
"The way I look at it, they're probably approaching this game as their season," Wild coach Mike Yeo said. "So we can't expect anything less than a playoff mentality from them. And that's the challenge that I presented to our players and said the exact same thing.
"They have another game after this. We have guys going to the Olympics, guys going on vacation. Can we be mentally tough enough to push those distractions aside and make sure that we bring the right focus, the right attitude into this game tonight?"
Parise, who has been skating with teammates for several days, on Wednesday completed his second full-contact practice, a key step in getting back to the lineup. Wild coach Mike Yeo said then it would be up to Parise after the morning skate Thursday to decide whether he'd play against Chicago.
"Felt good again this morning so I think we're going to give it a shot," Parise said. "It's tough when you're watching games from the press box so I'm looking forward to it."
"We had a pretty good feeling he would be [back in the lineup] yesterday as long as he felt good again this morning," Yeo said. "Obviously we're very excited to have him back."
ST. PAUL, Minn. -- It may be a bit cliche to use the "must-win" mantra in mid-January but things change quickly in the NHL.
Only 18 days ago the Dallas Stars were ahead of the Minnesota Wild in the Central Division standings and had the added benefit of three games in hand.
But following a stretch of seven losses in eight games, Dallas now trails Minnesota by eight points heading into their game Saturday at Xcel Energy Center.
The Stars play the Wild again Tuesday in Dallas but will lose one of their games in hand before then when they play the Nashville Predators on Monday. With that in mind Stars coach Lindy Ruff said the team needs to snap out of its 2014 funk now if it hopes to be a factor in the Stanley Cup Playoff race down the stretch.
For Scrivens, a native of Spruce Grove, Alberta, his trade Wednesday from the Los Angeles Kings in exchange for a third-round pick in the 2014 NHL Draft, allows him a chance to play for his hometown team. It also allows him his first true opportunity to win a starting job in the NHL.
"It was a little bit of a shock but I'd be lying if I didn't say it was something I was hoping for," Scrivens said of a trade out of Los Angeles. "It's going to be a fun experience playing back at home."
Harding and the Wild have refused divulge whether his illness is related to his multiple sclerosis. He missed four games in December as doctors adjusted his medication for the disease.
"Wasn't feeling good, obviously," Harding said. "If I felt even a little bit like I could play, I would have. But there are some things that are out of my control."
Harding said he's been skating on his own for "three or four" days now, but Tuesday was seen as a major step toward getting him back in the lineup soon. Entering play Tuesday his 1.65 goals-against average is the best in the NHL and his .933 save percentage is second-best.
ST. PAUL, Minn. — Walking on crutches after undergoing surgery on Monday to repair his fractured ankle, Minnesota Wild captain Mikko Koivu addressed the media for the first time since the injury.
Koivu was placed on injured reserve following the procedure, which Wild General Manager Chuck Fletcher said should expedite Koivu's recovery time. It is expected he will miss about four weeks.
Koivu was struck in the foot during the second period of the Wild's 5-3 win against the Washington Capitals seven days ago. He left the bench for a portion of the game but returned and actually assisted on two Ryan Suter goals a few minutes later. Koivu played a couple more shifts in the third period, but Wild coach Mike Yeo sent him back to the dressing room after seeing his captain in visible pain on the bench.
"I think every hockey player has [been hit by] a puck in the foot," Koivu said. "Obviously, the pain is not fun, but usually it goes away if you keep playing and keep the skate on. When I kind of realized it was worse than I thought, the pain got worse and worse. That's when I realized it was probably more than a bruise."
Koivu leads the Wild with 27 assists and 35 points this season and is also a valued member of the team's power play and penalty kill units. He ranks fourth among NHL forwards in ice time, averaging 21:34 a night, and his 55.7 winning percentage in the faceoff circle is one of the best in the League.
ST. PAUL, Minn. -- The Minnesota Wild will be without defenseman Jared Spurgeon for the foreseeable future after the team put him on injured reserve with a lower-body injury Saturday before the final game of a four-game homestand against the Washington Capitals.
Spurgeon, who elevated to the Wild’s top pairing with Ryan Suter earlier this week, was hurt while blocking a shot in a 4-1 win over the Buffalo Sabres on Thursday. He never missed a shift during the game but did not practice Friday, elevating concerns that he could be hurt.
With Spurgeon out, Wild coach Mike Yeo will reunite the pairing of Suter and Jonas Brodin, who have played together for much of the past two seasons. Nate Prosser will step into Spurgeon’s old role next to Marco Scandella on Minnesota’s second pairing. Prosser has two assists in 17 games this season but will add some size and grit.
"It’s a great opportunity for [Prosser]," Yeo said. In the past, he’s shown the kind of stability and defensive game that we need to go against top lines."
A gritty fourth-liner who excels in the faceoff circle, Konopka has one goal and one assist in 36 games. He's in the final season of a two-year contract and is making $925,000 this season.
Konopka leads the Wild with 55 penalty minutes and his 65.7-percent faceoff success rate is the best in the NHL among players to take at least 200 faceoffs.
Should Konopka clear waivers, the Wild would have the option of assigning him to the team's American Hockey League affiliate, the Iowa Wild. Coach Mike Yeo said he hasn't thought that far ahead, however.
A native of Minneapolis who played college hockey 90 minutes south of the Twin Cities at Minnesota State, Backes missed two games earlier this month with a concussion. He was injured Saturday against the Chicago Blackhawks, missing a portion of the third period in a game the Blues won 5-4 in a shootout. The two injuries are not believed to be related.
Backes will miss his fourth game of the season Tuesday after missing only three games in his previous six seasons. He skated at the Blues' practice Monday and again Tuesday during their morning skate, but coach Ken Hitchcock said he will give him more time.
"Not going to play tonight, not ready to go," Hitchcock said. "He's feeling better and better, but he's not able to play. We're just not prepared to risk it right now."
The Wild sent a third-round pick in the 2013 NHL Draft (No. 70) and Clutterbuck to New York in a trade for Niederreiter during the draft this summer.
Clutterbuck, a fan favorite in Minnesota, was routinely among the NHL leaders in hits during his time with the Wild, racking up 1,457 of them and scoring 110 points in six seasons. He has four goals and two assists in 33 games with New York and his 120 hits are No. 11 in the League, despite the fact he missed six games with an injury.
“All of our players are well aware of what he can bring,” Wild coach Mike Yeo said. “He does very well, even when he’s not hitting on the ice. Even when that’s not a threat, the players on the ice think it’s a threat. We’ve got to be ready to execute, but certainly you have to make sure you have your head up.”
But to say it's been a struggle for him in this building since would be an understatement. His career numbers at the X: 3-9-2 with a 3.92 goals-against average and a .873 save percentage (those numbers include the 0-0 tie). Luongo has been pulled in each of his past three starts here. It got so bad over the final years with Alain Vigneault behind the bench that he refused to start Luongo in St. Paul.
But with a new coach comes new confidence as Luongo will face the Wild in Minnesota on Tuesday for the first time since Oct. 19, 2010.
MINNEAPOLIS -- As the United States gathers this week at Mariucci Arena for its World Junior Championships Selection Camp, it will bring together players from all backgrounds and locations from around the country.
It will also bring together longtime friends on the bench, where head coach Don Lucia and assistant coach Bob Motzko will be on the same staff for the first time since 2005. Motzko worked under Lucia at the University of Minnesota for four seasons and the two captured national championships in 2002 and 2003. The 2002 title was Minnesota's first since the Herb Brooks-led 1979 team.
"It's good to be back, working around Don again," Motzko said. "It must mean he liked me when we worked together if he wanted me to come back with him.
"It was a big thing for Don and his career to coach this team, we call it a 'Bucket List' thing. For him to ask me, I was honored and I feel very privileged to do it."
MINNEAPOLIS -- Without players like Johnny Gaudreau, Alex Galchenyuk and J.T. Miller leading the way offensively for the United States at the IIHF World Junior Championships this year, it will be up to a number of players to help pick up the scoring slack if the U.S. is going to repeat as champions for the first time.
Top-end offensive talent is not expected to be a hallmark of this year' team, but there are players at this week's U.S. selection camp with a scoring pedigree.
One such player is forward Henrik Samuelsson, a 2012 first round pick of the Phoenix Coyotes and current Edmonton Oil King of the Western Hockey League. With 29 players currently on the preliminary roster, a number expected to decrease by as many as five or six players after an exhibition game Tuesday at Minnesota State, Samuelsson said he needs to show U.S. coach Don Lucia and general manager Jim Johannson that he can be counted on to help lead the way offensively.
"I can score goals, I can make plays and my defensive game has gotten a lot better," Samuelsson said. "I can score big goals too."
MINNEAPOLIS --Zach Stepan, who is at the United States National Junior Team selection camp this week, is fully healthy for the camp that got underway Sunday evening at Mariucci Arena.
Stepan, a freshman at Minnesota State University, was injured in Game 2 of a Western Collegiate Hockey Association series Saturday against the University of Alabama-Huntsville in Huntsville, Ala.
With the Mavericks leading 2-1 late in the third period, Stepan was hit high and from behind into the boards behind the UAH net. Stepan lay on the ice for several moments before being brought back to the locker room.
Stepan did not return to the bench over the final minutes, a move he said was precautionary.
"I'm fine," Stepan said. "They just wanted to make sure everything was intact, and it was, so we're good to go."
MINNEAPOLIS -- With the United States National Junior Team selection camp officially underway, coach Don Lucia has handed over the keys of the one of the top-ranked collegiate hockey program to his assistant coaches.
With Lucia occupied by this week's camp and the World Junior Championship beginning Dec. 26, the University of Minnesota men's hockey team -- ranked No. 2 in the country -- has been left in the capable hands of assistant coaches Mike Guentzel and Grant Potulny.
"We came back from Michigan State [Dec. 8] and I told the guys, 'I'm turning it over to Coach Guentzel now,'" Lucia said. "[Minnesota] had a couple days of light practice, but I didn't even go on the ice. I just tried to stay away from the office as much as I could."
ST. PAUL, Minn. -- The Chicago Blackhawks and Minnesota Wild have each made adjustments to their lineups in advance of their game Thursday at Xcel Energy Center (8 p.m. ET, NHLN-US).
For the Blackhawks, Andrew Shaw and Michal Handzus did not make the trip to Minnesota and are unavailable Thursday. Handzus is sick and will miss his second consecutive game. Shaw sustained an upper-body injury when he was checked hard into the boards late in Chicago's game Tuesday against the Dallas Stars.
Each is considered day-to-day and Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville said each could return to the lineup as soon as Friday when Chicago plays the Anaheim Ducks at United Center.
The Blackhawks also reassigned center Brandon Pirri to the Rockford Ice Hogs of the American Hockey League. Pirri had six goals and five assists in 24 games with Chicago, but Quenneville said Pirri needs to work on his game in the defensive end.
Lecavalier, who leads the Flyers with nine goals, finished the game Saturday and scored the deciding goal in the shootout. But with four games left on their road trip, the team thought it best to give Lecavalier the night off. Brayden Schenn is expected to take over Lecavalier's second-line center spot.
"We're losing a very good centerman," Flyers coach Craig Berube said. "Brayden Schenn has played a lot of center and it's a good opportunity for him to slide in there. He's played center pretty well his whole life."
Dumba hasn’t played since Nov. 9 against the Carolina Hurricanes — the only game this month in which he's played — but the Wild were impressed with the Dumba-Clayton Stoner pairing in preseason matchups against the Jets.
“He’s played well against these guys,” Wild coach Mike Yeo said. “I just want to see him continue to evolve, continue to grow. He’s in here for a reason and I want to see his strengths come out in the game."
Panthers general manager Dale Tallon had hinted changes could be coming to the roster earlier in the week after coach Kevin Dineen and his staff were let go. His team snapped a nine-game winless skid Tuesday with a 3-2 win against the Anaheim Ducks, but has sandwiched three losing streaks between their four wins this season.
The Panthers will try and put together their first winning streak of the season Friday against the Minnesota Wild at Xcel Energy Center.
Versteeg was off to a slow start with two goals with five assists in 18 games. He also was a minus-9 and hadn't scored a goal in 11 games, making him expendable for a team that appears ready to get younger.
Harding, who leads the NHL with a 1.22 goals-against average and is second with a .947 save percentage, was not present for the team's optional morning skate Wednesday, but will back up Backstrom in the game.
"Harding was feeling a little under the weather [Tuesday] night, so we kept him off [Wednesday] and went with the one goalie rather than go through the motions and have an average skate," Wild coach Mike Yeo said. "I'd rather give the players the option of doing what they need to do to get ready."
After missing 11 games with a sprained medial collateral ligament in his knee, Coyle returned Friday against the Montreal Canadiens. But a substantial amount of what Coyle termed as "just soreness" returned after the game and Coyle didn't play Sunday against the New Jersey Devils. Following the Wild's morning skate Sunday, Yeo said the knee had been re-injured against Montreal but classified Coyle as day-to-day.
Coaches are known for not always being upfront when it comes to injuries, but in this case day-to-day was spot-on. Coyle will return to the lineup Tuesday when the Wild play the Calgary Flames at Xcel Energy Center. He'll be the right wing on the Wild's top line, alongside Zach Parise and Mikko Koivu.
"A couple days off was really good," Coyle said. "I'm feeling a lot better about myself. It feels great right now. I'm ready to go."
Volchenkov has three assists and is a minus-2 in 13 games this season.
In his place, the Devils inserted Jon Merrill, a rookie making his NHL debut. A second-round pick of the Devils (No. 38) in the 2010 NHL Draft, Merrill is considered one of the organization's top prospects.
But less than five minutes into his NHL debut, Merrill raced Wild forward Torrey Mitchell into the corner to gather a loose puck when he appeared to lose an edge, smashing hard into the boards. Merrill appeared cut above the eye and needed assistance from two teammates when leaving the ice. The Devils announced at the start of the third period that Merrill suffered lacerations and he did not return to the game.
ST. PAUL, Minn. — In what seems like a weekly ritual for at least one member of the Minnesota Wild, another prominent player will play against his former team. This time it's Zach Parise going against the New Jersey Devils.
After Parise signed with the Wild on July 4, 2012, Minnesota and New Jersey did not play during the lockout-shortened season. That means Parise will get his first crack against a number of former friends and teammates Sunday when the Wild host the Devils at Xcel Energy Center.
"It'll be a lot of fun," Parise said. "It'll be a little different playing against those guys, knowing all of them and everything. Playing against them for the first time will be different, but I'm looking forward to it. A little nervous, but I'm looking forward to it."
Perhaps the most notable is forward Charlie Coyle, who sustained a knee injury Oct. 5 and has missed 11 games. Coyle was the Wild's second-line center when he went down but returns Friday as the team's top centerman, splitting up Mikko Koivu and Zach Parise for the first time since Parise signed with the Wild two summers ago.
"It's really nice just to be back with the guys again, able to go on road trips and not being left behind here and working out by myself," Coyle said. "I don't really care what line I'm on, I'm just happy to be back on the ice helping our team win."
ST. PAUL, Minn. -- Unfortunate circumstances have driven the Minnesota Wild to try a number of different second-line combinations during the early part of the season.
Charlie Coyle started the year as the second-line center with Mikael Granlund playing a wing. An injury to Coyle in the team's second game pushed Granlund to the middle, his natural position, but finding him consistent wings has been a problem. Dany Heatley has played a lot of left wing with Granlund, but is off to the slowest start of his career. In need of a spark, third-line left wing Matt Cooke spent some time with the second group. Nino Niederreiter has bounced between all of the Wild's top-three lines.
Finally, it seems Wild coach Mike Yeo has found a combo with some chemistry by moving veteran right wing Jason Pominville to the second line.
ST. PAUL, Minn. -- A number of injures on the blue line have forced the Minnesota Wild to shuffle their defensive pairs heading into their game Thursday against the Carolina Hurricanes at Xcel Energy Center.
The team announced Wednesday that Jonas Brodin, hit in the face by a dump-in attempt by Gabriel Bourque during a game Tuesday against the Nashville Predators, sustained a broken cheekbone on the play. He will not play against Carolina, but Wild coach Mike Yeo indicated Brodin could be back sooner than initially expected.
"I would suspect we could get him back on the ice [Friday] and hopefully back in the lineup soon," Yeo said.
Brodin, who is tied for the NHL lead among defensemen with three goals, also averages more than 24 minutes of ice time per game. His spot on the Wild's top pairing with Ryan Suter will fall to Jared Spurgeon, who held that spot for the first handful of games last season before Brodin established himself as one of the League's best young defensemen.
ST. PAUL, Minn. --Minnesota Wild center Charlie Coyle, out since Oct. 5 with a sprained knee, took part in his first morning skate since the injury Thursday as the Wild prepared for their game against the Carolina Hurricanes at Xcel Energy Center.
Wild coach Mike Yeo said Coyle skating with the team Thursday was another positive step in Coyle's rehabilitation of the injury sustained against the Anaheim Ducks in Minnesota's second game of the season.
"It's a good first step. I don't think he's too far away," Yeo said. "We've held our head above water with him out, but we haven't exactly dominated this last little stretch. But that's a big loss for us and we're anxious to get him back."
Cullen, a Moorhead, Minn. native, spent the last three seasons with the Wild, scoring 33 goals and 101 points in 193 games.
The Wild and Predators played two weeks ago in Nashville, so playing against his former teammates won't be something new. But this is Cullen's first trip to St. Paul as an opponent since Oct. 24, 2009 when Cullen skated for the Carolina Hurricanes.
Back then, Cullen hadn't yet become a fan favorite in Minnesota.
"It was funny walking past the doors [to the Wild locker room]," Cullen said. "It's kind of nice having already played one time, it helped quite a bit. But to be on the ice here, this building, on the other bench, it will be a strange feeling."
ST. PAUL, Minn. -- Both the Minnesota Wild and Dallas Stars will start their veteran backups in goal Saturday when the new Central Division rivals play at Xcel Energy Center.
Dallas goaltender Kari Lehtonen left Friday night's game against the Winnipeg Jets early in the second period, stopping all 21 shots he faced to that point. Stars coach Lindy Ruff said the injury is day-to-day.
With Lehtonen unavailable, the Stars called up Jack Campbell from the Texas Stars of the American Hockey League. He will back up Dan Ellis tonight against the Wild.
"Encouraging that [Lehtonen] could be back at practice [Sunday]," Ruff said.
Ellis made his first appearance of the season Friday against the Jets and allowed one goal on 23 shots.
Minnesota will go with its own backup goaltender for the second straight game in Josh Harding. Niklas Backstrom, injured Tuesday night against the Nashville Predators, practiced Friday and took part in the morning skate Saturday, but is still unavailable. He is expected to join the Wild on a seven-day, four-game Eastern Conference road trip starting Monday at the Buffalo Sabres.
ST. PAUL, Minn. -- It's only a three-game sample size, but it's enough for Minnesota Wild coach Mike Yeo to know his team needs more offense.
Through three games, the Wild have scored just seven goals -- including only two playing 5-on-5. With the top-line of Zach Parise, Mikko Koivu and Jason Pominville generating a vast majority of the team's quality chances, Yeo has decided to move some parts around in the hopes of balancing his lineup and getting his second line going offensively as his team hosts the Winnipeg Jets on Thursday at Xcel Energy Center.
The most prominent change comes on that top line, where right wing Pominville has been moved to the second line and replaced with Nino Niederreiter.
Not only did the Ducks lose big 6-1 to the Colorado Avalanche at the Pepsi Center, but Boudreau was the target of an angry Patrick Roy, the Colorado coach who appeared to lose his cool in the closing seconds of the contest.
The result alone left a bad taste in Boudreau's mouth, and sitting on it for the last two days hasn't helped much.
"Certainly, we are looking forward to getting back on the ice," Boudreau said. "If we could have played the next morning, I'm sure the guys would have wanted to."
As much as the Ducks would probably like to forget the result of Wednesday's blowout, Boudreau said it's important that they don't dismiss everything from the season-opening loss.
"You put it behind you in a way," Boudreau said. "In the other way, you want to remember it and hope it doesn't happen again."
Veteran Ducks forward Saku Koivu said there was plenty to take from the loss to the Avalanche, but kept the loss in perspective. After all, there are still 81 games left in the regular season.
"Those few first games, you're paying more attention because you've been off a long time," Koivu said. "But there are games in midseason you might lose [like that] if you play bad. You have to turn the page and get ready for the next one.
ST. PAUL, Minn. -- The Minnesota Wild will get a look at an important part of their future Saturday when they host the Anaheim Ducks at Xcel Energy Center as defenseman Mathew Dumba is expected to make his National Hockey League debut.
A smooth-skating, hard-hitting 19-year old defenseman, Dumba was the franchise's first round pick (No. 7) in the 2012 draft. It was thought Dumba would debut in Thursday's season-opening shootout loss to the Los Angeles Kings, but Wild coach Mike Yeo decided to go with the bigger veteran in Clayton Stoner.
Luckily for Dumba, his parents are still in town from Thursday and will be able to watch their son's first NHL game in person.
"They're pretty happy," Dumba said.
Dumba learned he would make his debut on Friday after a conversation with Yeo. At this morning's skate, the team's veterans had Dumba lead the group in warmups.
Kings captain Dustin Brown, who sustained a hamstring injury early in training camp, has skated better in recent days and is expected to play on a line with Jarret Stoll and Trevor Lewis.
Kings defenseman Willie Mitchell, who missed all of last season after a pair of knee surgeries following the 2012 Stanley Cup Final, will return to the lineup in a familiar place -- against the Wild, a team he spent parts of five seasons with.
MINNEAPOLIS -- When Chuck Fletcher was named general manager of the Minnesota Wild in May 2009, there was plenty of work to be done to rebuild a franchise whose foundation was crumbling.
Minnesota had little in the way of a prospect cupboard and its most popular player in franchise history, Marian Gaborik, was weeks away from signing with the New York Rangers.
With the Wild entering their fifth training camp with Fletcher at the helm, there should be legitimate competition for roster spots between a number of veterans and young players who gained experience last season. Among the top six, only left wing Zach Parise, center Mikko Koivu and right wing Jason Pominville are guaranteed much of anything.
MINNEAPOLIS -- With a combination of skilled veterans and experienced youngsters, most observers believe this season's edition of the Minnesota Wild is perhaps the most talented group the franchise has ever brought to a training camp.
One of the key pieces to the Wild's puzzle this season is veteran winger Jason Pominville, acquired from the Buffalo Sabres at last season's trade deadline and now in his first camp with Minnesota.
A second-round pick of the Sabres in 2001, Pominville was in the midst of his ninth season with Buffalo when he was traded for the first time in his career last April.
MINNEAPOLIS -- While the Minnesota Wild were able to get one key piece of their lineup back Tuesday in Game 4 of the Western Conference Quarterfinal series against the Chicago Blackhawks, the team still has plenty of questions in goal with a pair of injured veterans and a rookie as the only answers.
By all accounts, forward Jason Pominville's return from an upper-body injury went off without a hitch and he is expected to play, in perhaps an even bigger role, in Game 5 on Thursday (9:30 p.m. ET, NBCSN, CBC, RDS2). Pominville began Game 4 on the Wild's fourth line before shuffling between there and the third line. He also played extended minutes on all six of Minnesota's power plays.
Pominville missed the team's previous five games.
But 36 hours before puck drop at United Center, the Wild have no idea who will be between the pipes -- or who will be healthy enough to suit up.
MINNEAPOLIS -- If the Minnesota Wild are going to get back into their Western Conference Quarterfinal series against the top-seeded Chicago Blackhawks -- a series the Wild trail 3-1 heading to Game 5 at United Center on Thursday (9:30 p.m. ET, CBC, RDS2, NBCSN) -- it likely will come because of a revitalized power play.
Minnesota was 0-for-6 with the man-advantage in Game 4 on Tuesday, a 3-0 loss Wild coach Mike Yeo said was "hanging there for us" if only his team had taken advantage of its chances, especially on the power play.
The Wild now are 0-for-15 on the man-advantage in the series and the only team in the playoffs that has not scored a power-play goal in the 2013 Stanley Cup Playoffs.
"That was definitely a winnable game," Yeo said. "We were doing a lot of good things, we had a great start defensively, we gave them very little in the game. But execution-wise, power play was the lead example that."
ST. PAUL, Minn. -- Despite a 3-2 win against the Chicago Blackhawks in Game 3 of their Western Conference Quarterfinal series, the Minnesota Wild made tweaks to their lineup in Game 4.
Right wing Jason Pominville returned from injury, and Jake Dowell, a former Blackhawks player, is centering the Wild's fourth line. Torrey Mitchell, who centered that line for Game 3, moves to right wing. Mike Rupp, who skated four shifts Sunday, was scratched.
ST. PAUL, Minn. --Chicago Blackhawks defenseman Duncan Keith left the Twin Cities on Monday night to return to Chicago to be by the bedside of his wife Kelly-Rae, who gave birth to a baby boy Tuesday morning.
Keith returned in time to join the Blackhawks lineup for Game against the Minnesota Wild on Tuesday night in a Western Conference Quarterfinal series (NBCSN, CBC, RDS2).
ST. PAUL, Minn. -- Just 24 hours after receiving bad news regarding the candidacy of rookie defenseman Jonas Brodin for the Calder Trophy, the Minnesota Wild got some good news about Ryan Suter and the Norris Trophy, awarded annually to the NHL's best defenseman.
Suter, along with the Pittsburgh Penguins' Kris Letang and the Montreal Canadiens' P.K. Subban, are the three finalists for the award, which is presented annually to the blueliner who "demonstrates throughout the season the greatest all-round ability" at the position, as voted on by members of the Professional Hockey Writers' Association.
"It's a huge honor for me. I feel very fortunate to be on that list," Suter said Tuesday. "It says a lot about our team and the guys I play with."
ST. PAUL, Minn. -- As the Stanley Cup Playoffs kick into full gear this week, the Professional Hockey Writers Association has begun announcing the finalists for its postseason awards. They will do so by releasing the names of the finalists for 11 awards each weekday through May 20.
The first award announced Monday was the Calder Trophy, given to the League's top rookie, as voted on by members of the PHWA.
ST. PAUL, Minn. -- A pair of Chicago Blackhawks returned to practice Monday as the team prepares for its Game 4 matchup against the Minnesota Wild on Tuesday in a Western Conference Quarterfinal at Xcel Energy Center (9:30 p.m. ET, NBCSN, CBC, RDS2).
Forward Dave Bolland and goaltender Ray Emery took part in the entire practice but both said they will not be ready to play Tuesday night. Both are inching closer and could be ready to jump back into the lineup when the series shifts back to Chicago's United Center for Game 5 on Thursday.
ST. PAUL, Minn. -- A critical member of the Minnesota Wild's lineup may be on the verge of returning just in time for Game 4 of their Western Conference Quarterfinal series against the Chicago Blackhawks.
For the first time in a week, Minnesota right winger Jason Pominville joined his teammates for practice Monday, skating with 14 of his teammates during an optional session at Xcel Energy Center.
Pominville scored four goals and added five assists in 10 games with the Wild after coming over from the Buffalo Sabres in a deal at the NHL Trade Deadline for a pair of prospects and a pair of draft choices.
ST. PAUL, Minn. -- For the first time since sustaining a lower-body injury shortly before the start of Game 1's Western Conference Quarterfinal series against the Chicago Blackhawks, Minnesota Wild goaltender Niklas Backstrom addressed the media Saturday following the team's practice, one in which he participated.
"I for sure want to get back out there as soon as possible," Backstrom said. "It's getting better, it's getting there. It's going to take time, but it's something to work on every day. Every morning when you wake up, you hope it's better."
Backstrom was expected to start Game 1 when, during warm-ups, he pushed off his left leg to try and stop a puck. He leaned over on the ice in obvious pain and limped back to the locker room.
About 15 minutes before puck drop, Josh Harding was thrust into the starting lineup for the first time in over two months and stopped 35 shots in a 2-1 overtime loss Tuesday. Harding was stellar again in Game 2, stopping 43 of 47 shots in a 5-2 loss.
ST. PAUL, Minn. -- The Minnesota Wild entered the Stanley Cup Playoffs with 11 players on the roster who hadn't played a single playoff game in the NHL.
Among those 11 are three rookies, all of whom played big minutes and important roles for the Wild in its Game 1, 2-1 overtime loss to the top-seeded Chicago Blackhawks in the Western Conference Quarterfinals.
Minnesota boasts a pair of rookies among its top-six forwards, plus a 19-year old rookie and a pair of 23-year-olds on its top-four defensive pairings. Four of those five have played major roles for the Wild this season.
Defenseman Jonas Brodin is the headliner of the bunch, a 19-year-old Calder Trophy candidate who skated a team rookie record 34:20 in Game 1.
"I've got total confidence in this kid," Wild coach Mike Yeo said. "Seeing him go out over and over again, we've talked about it many times this year, but you have to be impressed to see this kid go into Chicago and perform in a playoff game like that. … It shows the composure and the mental makeup he has."
ST. PAUL, Minn. -- The Minnesota Wild prepared for Friday's Game 2 of its Western Conference Quarterfinal series against the Chicago Blackhawks down three players.
Goaltender Niklas Backstrom, who suffered a lower-body injury during warmups before Game 1 Tuesday, did not take part in practice Thursday. Wild coach Mike Yeo classified him in the day-to-day category and said he expects Backstrom to make the trip to Chicago.
More likely is that Josh Harding will start again in goal for Game 2 with rookie Darcy Kuemper, recalled from the Houston Aeros of the American Hockey League, backing him up.
Right wing Jason Pominville will not play in Game 2 and won't even make the trip as he continues to recover from an elbow to the head from Los Angeles Kings forward Dustin Brown nine days ago. Yeo also said Pominville is day-to-day, so a best-case scenario for Minnesota would mean he's back in time for Game 3 on Sunday.
ST. PAUL, Minn. -- With Chicago's United Center booked for an NBA playoff game Thursday, a quirk which pushed Game 2 of this Stanley Cup Playoff series back 24 hours, the Minnesota Wild chose to fly home following the game, allowing its players to enjoy the comforts of home despite opening on the road.
"The last two weeks have felt like playoff hockey," coach Mike Yeo said. "So to have a chance to come home and reset, regardless of whatever the outcome of that game was, we thought it would be important for our guys to be able to reset and focus to be ready for the next one."
ST. PAUL, Minn. -- With an extra day between Games 1 and 2 of the Western Conference Quarterfinals series against the Chicago Blackhawks, the Minnesota Wild flew back to the Twin Cities on Tuesday night following a 2-1 overtime loss.
Originally scheduled to practice Wednesday and Thursday at Xcel Energy Center before flying back to the Windy City on Thursday afternoon, Wild coach Mike Yeo gave his players the day off, although most showed up for treatment and meetings.
The first question of Yeo's press conference regarded the status of goaltender Niklas Backstrom, who sustained a lower-body injury in the final minutes of warm-ups before the game Tuesday. Yeo classified him as day-to-day, saying he would know more after the veteran met with the training staff Wednesday.
It would be somewhat surprising if the Wild didn't clinch Friday. Not only are the Oilers in a deep funk as their season draws to a close, Minnesota has won 19 of its last 20 meetings with Edmonton in this building. Goaltender Niklas Backstrom is 17-0 at home against the Oilers, with a 1.34 goals against average and a save percentage approaching 95 percent.
That's not good news for Edmonton, which is 1-9-0 in its last 10 games and has scored just 13 goals in that stretch.
Here is a look at how the lineups could look for both teams this evening:
ST. PAUL, Minn. --Minnesota Wild coach Mike Yeo was unusually secretive about who will be in his lineup Saturday when his team faces off with the Columbus Blue Jackets in the final game of a critical three-game home stand.
"I'm not gonna talk about lineup this morning," Yeo said when asked about the status of injured center Matt Cullen, who skated with the team during the morning skate for the first time since sustaining a lower-body injury Apr. 1.
The same was said when he was asked about the status of injured defenseman Ryan Suter, who missed much of the game Thursday against the St. Louis Blues. Suter did not take part in the optional morning skate Saturday, neither did several other Wild veterans -- complicating matters when trying to project who is in and who is out for the Wild.
ST. PAUL, Minn. -- On the surface, the Minnesota Wild's penalty kill numbers don't look bad. For the season, the team has killed off 82.2 percent of chances against it, good for 11th best in the National Hockey League.
But the Minnesota kill has been off the last two games, allowing five goals in its last eight chances against the Dallas Stars on Friday and Los Angeles Kings on Saturday.
The three power-play goals allowed against the Stars amounted to the difference in the game -- a 5-3 loss that snapped the Wild's seven-game winning streak.
ST. PAUL, Minn. -- Two teams going in very different directions in the Western Conference standings will meet tonight at Xcel Energy Center when the Minnesota Wild face the Phoenix Coyotes.
The Wild, playing some of their best hockey under second-year coach Mike Yeo, have won a franchise-best six straight games.
The Coyotes kick off a three-game road trip having lost six games in a row. Phoenix, which sat in sixth place in the West on March 14, one point out of fourth, has tumbled seven spots as a result of the skid and now sits four points back of the San Jose Sharks for the eighth and final spot in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Zucker, who was hit in the head by Anaheim Ducks forward Corey Perry on Tuesday, will accompany the Wild on its three-game road trip beginning this weekend against the Colorado Avalanche. Zucker skated for the second straight day Thursday and has reported no problems so far.
For the Avalanche, veteran Milan Hejduk will return to the lineup after missing five games with a stiff neck.
"There's a lot of times where when we come here or they come to California, it's a back-to-back game or you don't really have time to enjoy it, so it was fun," Saku said. "Obviously it's a big day for him, 30th birthday; just goes to show how time flies. It feels like he just came over here and now it's already 10 years."
Granlund, the Wild's first-round pick (No. 9) in the 2010 NHL Draft, is playing his first professional season in North America after starring in his native Finland the past three seasons. Adjusting to the speed and size of the ice sheet in the NHL has been an issue for Granlund, as well as playing against bigger and more physical competition.
The highly skilled center has played in 19 games this season, scoring one goal and assisting on five, but has been a healthy scratch each of the past two games and in four of Minnesota's last eight overall.
Hall, who injured his hamstring Friday night against the St. Louis Blues, is officially listed as day-to-day, but with the Oilers in the midst of a nine-game, 16-day road trip, Krueger said he'd rather give Hall some extra time off in order to avoid a more long-term injury.
"Taylor is still feeling a strain that we want to err to the cautious side," Krueger said. "This type of injury, we can give him four days of rest as opposed to forcing him in today. He's day-to-day but we expect him back very soon."
He earned a reputation in Russia as a scorer, tallying 54 goals in two years in the KHL before signing with the Flames this offseason. The 27-year old Czech has struggled to translate that game to the National Hockey League, however, scoring two goals in 13 games this season.
Part of the issue is comfort.
Cervenka still struggles with language, understanding English enough when spoken to, but not comfortable enough to speak it. Communicating with teammates is difficult, except for with linemate and fellow Czech Jiri Hudler.
ST. PAUL, Minn. -- Former National Hockey League forward Andrew Brunette officially retired as a player Thursday, but he won't be out of the game for long.
Brunette was named Hockey Operations Advisor for the Minnesota Wild, an all-encompassing role that will allow Brunette to work directly with Wild general manager Chuck Fletcher, assistant GM Brent Flahr, Houston Aeros GM Jim Mill as well as the coaching staffs in Minnesota and Houston.
"It may be a bittersweet day for Andrew Brunette, but it's a great day for our franchise," Fletcher said. "To add someone with his experience and his intelligence to our hockey operations department … who knows where this takes him? I think he has unlimited potential to do what he wants to do in this game."
ST. PAUL, Minn. -- Losers of two straight games, the Minnesota Wild return home to St. Paul, where they are 4-1 this season, to face the Vancouver Canucks.
For the first time all season, Wild coach Mike Yeo has elected to break up his first line of center Mikko Koivu and wings Zach Parise and Dany Heatley. Koivu and Parise remain and will be joined by rookie right wing Charlie Coyle, who will play in his second career NHL game. It also will be the home debut for a player considered one of the Wild's top prospects since his acquisition from the San Jose Sharks two summers ago.
"It's special to be playing with those guys," Coyle said. "I'd like to thank coach for giving me the opportunity, but obviously, you have to take advantage of it. Whatever role they put me in, I'm going to play to the best of my ability and help this team win."
Rather than start red-hot Roberto Luongo, who has won three starts in a row and allowed three goals goals total over that stretch, Canucks coach Alain Vigneault decided to look at career numbers instead of season numbers. The Xcel Energy Center has been a house of horrors for Luongo, who hasn't started a game in Minnesota since Oct. 19, 2010, when he allowed six goals on 18 shots over 40 minutes in a 6-2 loss.
ST. PAUL, Minn. --Chicago Blackhawks defenseman Michal Rozsival took another step in his recovery from a lower-body injury sustained last week by skating for the first time since the injury Wednesday at Xcel Energy Center, though he won't play in tonight's game against the Minnesota Wild
Rozsival has played in three of Chicago's six games to start the season, posting two assists, two hits and blocking two shots. He is a plus-2 and provides the Blackhawks with a veteran presence on the blue line.
"Not tonight," Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville said. "But we expect him soon."
Chicago opens a six-game road trip tonight against Minnesota, and Rozsival will likely be back in the lineup at some point on the trip. The Hawks are off Thursday before playing back-to-back games Friday and Saturday in Vancouver and Calgary.
ST. PAUL, Minn. -- Minnesota's first round pick in the 2011 NHL Draft was defenseman Jonas Brodin.
After playing in Sweden last season, he was expected to compete for a roster spot with Minnesota in training camp.
A lockout, a broken collarbone and an abbreviated stay with the Houston Aeros later, Brodin is with the Wild and will make his Xcel Energy Center debut tonight against the Columbus Blue Jackets after playing in both of the games on Minnesota's recent two-game road trip.
Wild coach Mike Yeo said he's been very pleased with his young defenseman through two games, especially considering the circumstances.
"Going to Joe Louis [Arena in Detroit], that's a pretty tough welcome to the NHL and I thought he was outstanding," Yeo said. "I thought he was very good in St. Louis, too, in a game that was very difficult for a defenseman to play. I think he's done a very nice job.
Yeo is rewarding the young Swede by moving him to the Wild's top pairing with veteran Ryan Suter. The promotion promises to bring a much bigger spotlight, more ice time, and gives Wild brass a chance to see a defensive pairing that could be together for a long, long time.
"Quite possibly," Yeo said. "Certainly we're projecting for [Brodin] down the road to be that kind of player. But let's be fair, this is only his third game in the NHL. We're asking a lot of him, but we do think he is capable of it."
The move also allows the reunion of Tom Gilbert and Clayton Stoner on the Wild's second D-pairing, a unit that was very impressive over Minnesota's first two games -- the team's two wins so far this season.
The Blue Jackets were late arrivals to Minnesota. After beating the Dallas Stars on Monday night at Nationwide Arena, weather conditions kept their plane grounded until this morning. The team did not leave Ohio until 10 a.m. local time and arrived in Minnesota less than eight hours before puck drop.
The team is not scheduled to hit the ice until warm-ups tonight, but will look to build off their win last night, which snapped a four-game losing streak.
ST. PAUL, Minn. -- Minnesota enters play tonight winners of two in a row and will look to start a season 3-0 for the first time since 2008-09. Coach Mike Yeo has made no changes to the skaters in his lineup through two games, a trend expected to continue Tuesday night against Nashville at Xcel Energy Center.
Niklas Backstrom started in goal Saturday against Colorado and will get the nod again. Over his career against the Predators, Backstrom is 7-4-1 with a 2.83 goals against average and a .907 save percentage.
Nashville is expected to make a couple of changes after Monday night's shootout loss to St. Louis, as the team recalled forward Gabriel Bourque from Milwaukee of the American Hockey League. Where he slots in is anyone's guess, as Nashville only had an optional skate this morning. Predators coach Barry Trotz did mention, however, that he was recalled in order to play Tuesday.
Trotz said he knew who he was starting in goal but wouldn't reveal it until just before game time. Reading the tea leaves, it's believed Chris Mason will get the nod. In 13 career games against Minnesota, Mason is 6-5-2 with a 3.20 goals-against average and an .881 save percentage.
It will be a unique experience for Suter, who signed with Minnesota on July 4 after spending the first seven years of his career in a Predators uniform. He said it will be a tough game to play in, based on his years of service with Nashville and the relationships forged with players and coaches.
"They are your teammates, the last [seven] years for me," Suter said. "It's tough to play against them but it's a part of professional sports. You have to balance that."
His longtime defensive partner, Predators captain Shea Weber, has been asked several times over the past several days about the prospect of playing against Suter. It was easy to see he's sick of talking about it.
"It'll definitely be different," Weber said. "We played together for a long time. The ultimate goal for both teams is winning, so I think both teams will do what it takes."
Much was made of the comments by Nashville general manager David Poile after Suter signed with Minnesota.
"I was looking at all my notes yesterday," Poile said in a conference call after Suter had signed. "Ryan had said when we had a meeting in November with he and Neil Sheehy (Suter's agent), he said at the time that he is not going anywhere else, he is signing with the Nashville Predators.
"Whether this franchise is in Timbuktu, the one point of not choosing to stay and play with Shea Weber, I will never, ever understand that."
Tuesday, Suter said he and Poile had their first conversation since then.
"He came down to the bench and we talked," Suter said. "He's a classy guy and I have a lot of respect for him. He has given me a lot of opportunities and I'll always respect him and appreciate him."
Suter chose not to share what was said between him and Poile this morning, saying it was a private conversation.
Low-key by nature, Suter said he was just looking forward to having it be over. He chuckled when asked if it was unfair fellow newcomer Zach Parise wouldn't have to go through the same thing this season because the Wild won't play the New Jersey Devils.
ST. PAUL, Minn. -- After opening the season with a pair of home games, Nashville's game Tuesday night against the Wild kicks off a two-week, seven game road trip. From Minnesota, the Preds will travel to St. Louis for a game Thursday before heading to the west coast for games against Anaheim, Phoenix, Los Angeles and San Jose before making another stop in St. Louis. Nashville won't play a home game game again until Feb. 7.
"I don't mind going on the road," Trotz said. "I like the fact that your team can come together. It's easy playing at home, anybody can play at home. This is where you are going to find out about your team, playing on the road."
Nashville alternate captain Mike Fisher said going on a long road trip, especially early in the season, can be a good thing.
"After a couple at home, sometimes the road is good for you," Fisher said. "It can force you to play a real solid, team game, play simple.
"It's a tough trip for us, no question. But I think it'll be a great test for us early."
ST. PAUL, Minn. -- With both teams in action last night, neither team skated Sunday morning at Xcel Energy Center.
Both squads won Saturday, so look for minimal changes to the lineup. The Wild will go with Josh Harding in goal, while Dallas coach Glen Gulutzan has indicated he was leaning towards inserting Cristopher Nilstorp. If he does, it would mark his first career National Hockey League start.
Wild fourth line center Zenon Konopka received 30 stitches to his nose last night after taking a high stick to the face in the second period against Colorado. He tweeted a picture after the game and said he'd be ready to go Sunday.
ST. PAUL, Minn. -- The Minnesota Wild have waited over six months to unveil their new $98-million assets. After a lockout and week-long training camp, the team will officially do just that as Zach Parise and Ryan Suter debut in Wild sweaters at 8 p.m. against the Colorado Avalanche at Xcel Energy Center.
Saturday's season opener also caps the annual "Hockey Day Minnesota" celebration sponsored by the team and the local Fox Sports affiliate. So it's safe to say that the hockey-crazed fans in Minnesota will be even more excited to see the Wild season finally get underway this evening.
For Parise, the delay has been especially long. After all, this is the player who started pining for the season to start in July at his introductory press conference.
"It dragged during November, December. It got pretty long," Parise said. "Everyone can stop analyzing and overanalyzing and now we can just play. I think everybody is looking forward to that."
ST. PAUL -- With one game to play, the Phoenix Coyotes control their own destiny when it comes to taking home the Pacific Division title.
It's quite simple: A win Saturday for the Coyotes -- either in regulation, overtime or a shootout -- is enough to win the division and capture the No. 3 seed in the Western Conference for the 2012 Stanley Cup Playoffs. The title would be the first-ever division crown for the Coyotes.
Phoenix holds a one point lead over both Los Angeles and San Jose heading into the season's final day. If the Coyotes lose to Minnesota in regulation, Phoenix could tumble all the way from third to eighth in the West. The Kings and Sharks play each other in San Jose in a game that should start around the time Phoenix's game ends.
Los Angeles won the season series with the Coyotes while Phoenix edged San Jose -- meaning the Coyotes will be pulling for the home team Saturday night.
"It's an honor and a privilege to be in the playoffs but our goal is to win the division, which we've never done here in Phoenix," Coyotes defenseman Keith Yandle said following a 4-1 win Friday at St. Louis. "It's something that we have to embrace and get those two points."
Of course, beating suddenly-improved Wild will not be easy. Each of Minnesota's last seven opponents are teams that are playoff bound. The Wild's record over that stretch: 4-2-1. Overall, the Wild have won four of five and have generally made life miserable for teams looking to improve or secure its playoff standing.
"It's a different kind of pressure. For a lot of our players, they know they're playing for jobs," said Wild coach Mike Yeo following practice Friday. "When you're playing for your job, you're going to feel some pressure. It's not team oriented, but it's personal pressure guys are putting on themselves."
Each of Minnesota's last four games has gone to the shootout, with the only loss over that stretch coming in Nashville on Tuesday night.
The Wild will dress its 47th different player of the season Saturday as defenseman Nate Prosser was suspended Friday for headbutting Chicago's Jamal Mayers on Thursday night in a 2-1 Wild victory. He will be replaced by former University of North Dakota defenseman Chay Genoway, who will make his NHL debut this evening and become the 15th rookie and 10th player to make his big-league debut for the Wild this season.
Clayton Stoner remains injured and will not play with an upper-body injury, and because the Wild reassigned Tyler Cuma following the win Thursday over the Blackhawks, the team needed to recall another defenseman. This time it will be Kris Fredheim, who played in two games for Minnesota back in November.
Here are the projected lineups for both teams Saturday:
ST. PAUL -- After missing five games because of suspension, Duncan Keith returns to the Chicago lineup Thursday as the Blackhawks play at Minnesota.
Keith, who was disciplined for elbowing Vancouver forward Daniel Sedin Mar. 21, will jump back into the Hawks top pairing with partner Brent Seabrook.
Chicago went 2-1-2 in the five games Keith missed, but his return comes at a good time. With a pair of road games against the Wild on Thursday and Detroit on Saturday, Chicago is currently sixth in the Western Conference playoff race. Two points behind Nashville and three behind Detroit, the Blackhawks could jump as high as fourth with a pair of wins and some help. The Red Wings host New Jersey and Nashville hosts Dallas on Thursday.
"It was tough," Keith told NHL.com following practice Tuesday. "Obviously you want to be out there playing and helping the guys. They did a great job and played well. We've been playing well for a long time now, I think. I just want to help out and keep it going."
Keith, who won the Norris Trophy two years ago, is second in the NHL in ice time this season, trailing only Brian Campbell of Florida. And while a suspension is never a positive thing, a break down the stretch for Keith could benefit both him and the Blackhawks. Chicago has already clinched a playoff berth and a rested Keith could make the Hawks a dangerous team over the next few weeks.
"I guess getting some rest at this time of year would probably be beneficial in that regard," Keith said. "I didn't feel like I needed rest. I've been able to play a lot of games every year, so I don't feel that's a reason or anything why I need rest. I feel good and I feel stronger than I was before, so hopefully it pays off."
On the injury front, forward Jonathan Toews is on the roadtrip for Chicago but will not play Thursday. He could play Saturday in Detroit after missing 21 games because of a concussion.
Center Dave Bolland also will not play Thursday. He is day-to-day with an upper-body injury, but is also on the trip and could play Saturday.
Andrew Brunette is questionable with a lower-body ailment, but practiced Wednesday.
As a whole, the Blackhawks should be a rested bunch: They haven't played since Sunday's 5-4 shootout loss to the Wild, which they will attempt to avenge this evening.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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."
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."
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.
ST. PAUL -- For the Minnesota Wild, much has been said and written about the their struggles to score goals lately. Even when things were going well early in the season, Minnesota ranked near the bottom of the League in total offense. Ever since things went bottom-up in mid-December, it's gotten worse.
Prior to the Wild's game Sunday against Calgary, Minnesota had been shut out in consecutive games at home for the first time in a decade.
Through 40 minutes against the Flames, the listless Wild appeared ready to make it a hat trick. Finally, Erik Christensen scored back-to-back goals early in the third period Sunday, breaking a home shutout streak of over 160 minutes.
"We owe our fans a good game here," Wild coach Mike Yeo said afterward. "This is too many games in a row where we've come out flat in our own building."
But the offense has only been a part of Minnesota's struggles. Yeo said his team has given up an inordinate amount of odd-man rushes the other way, including the game-winning tally Sunday night in a 4-3 loss to Calgary.
"The last two weeks, we've given up more 2-on-1s than we have all season," Yeo said. "It's something we used to pride ourselves on: We don't give up odd man rushes. Now, we're giving them up like crazy. It's not good enough."
For Yeo, he says his team can combat that by simply putting forth more effort. Too often, he says, his team has been caught flat-footed, and has paid for it.
"It's two goals in the last three games we've given up the exact same way and it should not happen," Yeo said. "It's a matter of urgency, being ready to back up our defensemen and a little bit of urgency that you're not going to allow the puck into the back of your net."
The 2-on-1s are just one aspect of the Wild's defensive game Yeo has been displeased with. Minnesota has made a habit of falling behind, and falling behind early. And although the Wild lead the League in victories when allowing the first goal, a vast majority of those wins came early in the season.
"For a team that has difficulty scoring goals, it makes it real tough trying to battle back the rest of the way," Yeo said. "We have to have more urgency on the defensive side of things and usually when you do that, over the course of the game, things tend to open up a bit more on the offensive side."
Yeo wasn't pleased with the effort of five or six guys Sunday night, hinting at a potential line-up shake-up this evening. That could come in the form of the return of winger Cal Clutterbuck, who has missed the last several games with an undisclosed illness. He skated at the Wild's practice Monday and this morning's skate and is likely to return this evening.
Forward Nick Johnson will be scratched this evening. Johnson, who represented the Wild in the All-Star Game skills challenge, hasn't played well lately and Yeo decided it's time to sit him down.
"I don't want to say we're making an example of him, but that's what it is right now. I didn't like his game last game," Yeo said.
On the injury front, Wild captain Mikko Koivu has also been skating with the team the last couple of days, although his return this season -- if at all -- is still a ways off.
ST. PAUL -- The Dallas Stars look to continue their playoff push against the slumping Minnesota Wild tonight at Xcel Energy Center as the two teams hook up for the fourth and final time this season. The home team has won each of the previous three meetings.
The last time these teams played in St. Paul on Jan. 21, the Wild won 5-2, thanks to four second-period goals. Since Dec. 13, Minnesota has won just nine times and the win over Dallas that Saturday is perhaps the team's most impressive in that stretch.
Since then, the Stars have morphed into the NHL's hottest team, winners of five straight games. Dallas hans't lost a game in regulation in nearly a month -- Feb. 19 against Nashville, going 9-0-1 over that stretch.
The streak has pushed the Stars from the outside of the playoff race to the peak of the Pacific Division, two points ahead of Phoenix and four clear of San Jose.
If its winning ways was not good news enough, Dallas also got its captain back Saturday night as Brenden Morrow returned after missing 18 games with an upper-body injury. Morrow came back in style, too, netting the game-winning goal in a 2-0 win over Anaheim.
"It's a pretty long layoff, but the team was playing well and it gave me the time to take care of the body and get healthy again," Morrow said. "I didn't want to screw anything up. The team's been playing great, so it was nice to come in and help out. Spent too much time in the penalty box, though."
The Stars' winning ways allowed the team to take a hands-off approach to Morrow's rehab, affording him to use the full time-frame to get healthy instead of rushing him back. Morrow said he's not all the way back yet, but he's getting closer everyday.
Regardless, Stars coach Glen Gulutzan said having Morrow back in the lineup will definitely help with the grind of the final month, where back-to-back games become more regular.
"He gives us a big, heavy body in there and has a good voice in the locker room," Gulutzan said. "It's going to take him a few games to get up to 100 percent, but I thought his first game was pretty good."
The Stars are dinged up on the back end, however, as defenseman Sheldon Souray is suffering from a lower-body ailment that will keep him out of the lineup tonight and likely again tomorrow in Winnipeg. Forward Radek Dvorak will also miss tonight's game with an ankle injury suffered against the Ducks on Saturday.
Like with Morrow, Dallas plans to play it cautiously with both as Gulutzan says he has confidence in the guys who will replace them in the lineup, defenseman Jordie Benn and Ryan Garbutt.
"[Souray] and Devo are in the same boat, I'd rather have them at 100-percent healthy, or as close to it as we can get rather than to try and push them to play at 75, 70 percent," Gulutzan said. "We need healthy guys and we have healthy guys who can step in and help us."
The Stars called up defenseman Benn on Monday from AHL Texas. He has an assist in two games with Dallas this season and leads Texas defensemen in scoring with 28 points in 56 games.
Along with brother Jamie, a forward, the Benns are just the third set of brothers to play for the Stars at the same time since the team moved from Minnesota in 1993 and just the sixth in franchise history.
ST. PAUL -- With face-off at Xcel Energy Center between Minnesota and the Calgary Flames coming a couple of hours earlier than normal, Wild coach Mike Yeo won't have to wait long on a couple of game-time decisions he will make regarding two injured players.
Injured in Thursday's game at Phoenix, goaltender Josh Harding will back-up Matt Hackett if he's able to dress. If not, the Wild will likely sign a local amateur to play behind Hackett. Earlier this season, the Wild had to sign 51-year old Paul Deutsch to an amateur contract when a personal issue kept starter Niklas Backstrom from a game and Hackett was iffy to get to the arena in time after a call up. Hackett did, and Deutsch was only used during warm-ups.
"We have a back-up plan for that," Yeo said, divulging little.
But considering the Wild's luck with injuries this season, if they must make another signing tonight, whomever gets inked better stay warm. The Wild have used a team-record 44 players this season, tops in the NHL.
Also a game-time decision is defenseman Clayton Stoner who has not played since Feb. 2 after leaving that game against Colorado following a fight. He's missed 17 games with a hip injury.
"He had a good day yesterday," Yeo said. "It was just a matter of how he felt this morning."
Despite any hope for the playoffs being virtually gone, tonight's game is big for the Wild, who have not won a game at home since Feb. 26. Although that was just three games ago, Minnesota has been blanked by both Los Angeles and Colorado in the two games since -- making it feel like much longer.
"We haven't played real well in this building," said Wild winger Dany Heatley. "I think we got back to our game against Phoenix [Thursday]."
For Calgary, defenseman T.J Brodie did not make the trip and will be replaced in the line-up by veteran Anton Babchuk, who has five assists in 18 games this season and is a plus-1.
Unlike the Wild, Calgary is still very much in the playoff chase, entering play Sunday with 74 points, good for 10th in the west, but only two points behind eighth place-Colorado. The Flames also have two games in-hand on the Avs. San Jose is in ninth with 75 points. The Kings, also have 74 points before the log jam loosens -- the Wild are in 12th with 68.
Initially sent to Minnesota's AHL affiliate in Houston to learn the system and get his feet wet, Wild General Manager figured Kampfer's feet were wet enough when watching his team get blown out 6-0 Friday night Detroit. With a bevy of defensive breakdowns in front of goaltender Josh Harding, the Wild decided the time was now to add a seventh defenseman to the mix. Minnesota, which had been playing with seven, or even eight, for much of the season, had decided to go with six since the trade deadline last Monday.
"We've had a chance to look at some of his shifts in the NHL," said Wild coach Mike Yeo. "He moves well, passes the puck well, so we're anxious to see if he can come in and fit right in."
The Ann Arbor, Mich. native and former Michigan Wolverine was a fourth round pick of the Anaheim Ducks in the 2007 NHL draft. He was acquired in the deadline day deal that sent veteran blueliner Greg Zanon to Boston.
"It was definitely a surprise that [the call] came this quick," Kampfer said. "I talked to Chuck yesterday and the plan was to play a couple of games [in Houston], get acclimated with the system, play in some games then come up. But I was excited to get the call and I'll be ready to go out there tonight."
Kampfer didn't play in any games with Houston, but was able to participate in two practices with the Aeros, which he said helped him learn a little bit about the systems the Wild use. And with Minnesota's playoff hopes essentially D.O.A. at this point, Kampfer has an opportunity to show Yeo and his staff what he can do in game situations.
"I think you're on tryout everyday when you're in the NHL," Kampfer said. "I don't think it really matters who you are, you have to prove yourself everyday and show that you're making the most of your opportunities. I definitely think this is an opportunity to show the coaches and management that I can play, and I can play in the NHL every night."
Kampfer will be paired tonight with another Wild newcomer, Tom Gilbert, also acquired on deadline day. Gilbert is still looking for his first win in a Wild sweater.
"Both guys move the puck well," Yeo said. "If we can get those guys executing well, it'd be nice to throw those guys out there with a [Cullen] line or a [Brodziak] line. Hopefully their execution can help those guys create a little bit more, whether it's off the rush or even just getting to the offensive zone."
Kampfer's debut is about the only thing certain for a very uncertain Wild team right now. He will take the place of veteran Kurtis Foster, who, along with being a little banged up, was on the ice for three goals against the Red Wings.
Winger Cal Clutterbuck will be a game-time decision after a hard collision with Justin Abdelkader in Detroit. Fellow wing Nick Palmieri, also injured in Detroit, is out with an upper body injury and Yeo had no timetable for his return.
If Clutterbuck does play, Yeo will have to choose between veteran Erik Christensen, who has been scratched of late, or recent call-up Chad Rau, who has scored two game-winning goals for the Wild in just seven games this season -- one coming on Hockey Day Minnesota in January and the other a couple of weeks ago on Hockey Day Across America.
No word yet on if the Wild have petitioned any local municipalities to declare a Hockey Day holiday in their city.
Even Minnesota's starting goaltender for tonight is uncertain. Harding allowed all six goals in Detroit before giving way to Matt Hackett for a large chunk of the final period. Veteran Niklas Backstrom is out 2 to 4 weeks with a groin injury.
Like most teams, it's easy to tell who the starting goaltender will be based on how they come off following the morning skate. Yeo had both goalies come off at the same time.
"We're going to keep that a surprise, we don't do that often," Yeo said.
The smart money is on Hackett making just his second career start tonight. In five games with the Wild this season, Hackett has been brilliant, posting a 2-0 record with a 0.63 goals against average while stopping 98 percent of shots faced. Viewed by many as the franchise's goaltender of the future, it would be Hackett's first career start at Xcel Energy Center.
Colorado, which lost 5-1 to Pittsburgh last night at the Pepsi Center, did not arrive until early in the morning and did not skate Sunday. Steve Downey was injured against the Penguins and the Avs called up winger Mike Connolly, a former University of Minnesota-Duluth Bulldog.
Connolly led the Bulldogs to a national championship 11 months ago in this building, and if he plays tonight, will also make his NHL debut here. He was acquired in the deal that sent Daniel Winnik and T.J. Galiardi to San Jose last Monday. In 42 games in the AHL this season, Connolly has 10 goals and 20 assists.
"He's had lots of good opportunities, hit a post last night, had two or three good ones the night before," Sutter said. "I think the big adjustment for him is going to be pace of play."
Tonight's contest features two of the League's lowest-scoring teams. All of which means tonight's game will likely be a high-scoring shootout -- that's typically how it turns out anyways, especially this time of year when expectations can change on a nightly basis.
"We had enough chances last night, that's for sure," Sutter said. "Probably had more chances last night than we did in the Chicago game (a 4-0 Kings win last Saturday)."
On the injury front, the Kings came out of the game last night fine and are expected to put out the same lineup.
"Playing last night, we have some bumps and bruises but nothing holding anyone out," Sutter said.
ST. PAUL -- It's possible the smile hasn't left Tom Gilbert's face since it was announced he was traded yesterday in a deadline deal from Edmonton to Minnesota.
Gilbert, born and raised in the Twin Cities, will make his Wild debut this evening on national television against the Los Angeles Kings. And while the story is definitely of the feel-good variety, none of that will matter once the puck hits the ice. The Wild, winners of three of their last four games, trail the Kings by three points in the ever-tightening Western Conference playoff race, where just six points separate six teams for the final two playoff spots.
But for Gilbert, hitting the ice tonight will probably be the most relaxed he's been over the last 24 hours. After learning of the trade, Gilbert said he spent a couple of hours answering emails and texts before packing and hoping on a plane to get to St. Paul. He arrived early this morning, skated with his new teammates and will now try and glean as much as he can about a new system in the eight hours or so before faceoff.
"It still hasn't sunk in yet," Gilbert said. "I think after this first game, once I get settled, it'll be more of a reality."
Perhaps the only people more excited than Gilbert are his parents Kelly and Mary, who still live in Gilbert's hometown of Bloomington, Minn. -- a short 15-minute drive south of Xcel Energy Center.
"I had called my parents before and warned them that my name was out there and that Minnesota was brought up," Gilbert said. "Obviously, my mom and dad were pretty excited. It took me about an hour and a half after the trade to get a hold of them. I'm sure they were dying to hear from me."
From a hockey standpoint, moving Gilbert for franchise mainstay Nick Schultz -- someone Kings defenseman and former Wild teammate Willie Mitchell said he thought would be a "lifer," -- should help jumpstart Minnesota's lackluster offensive production from the blueline.
"It's a big reason why Tom is here," Wild coach Mike Yeo said. "The way we want to play the game, a huge part of that is how our defensemen execute and transition the puck out of our defensive zone and deliver it up to our forwards quickly.
"It's a tough game to play if your defensemen aren't moving the puck well. We defend well, but we spend too much time defending."
ST. PAUL -- With its season potentially on the line tonight against San Jose, Minnesota will have to make a go of it without captain Mikko Koivu, still out with an undisclosed injury.
Koivu, who was not on Minnesota's brief two-game road trip to Florida and Dallas this week, has missed the last four games.
The Wild will also be without defenseman Mike Lundin, who has also missed the last four games with a lower body injury. Both guys skated on their own before the team session this morning, but there is no timetable on either of their returns.
"I know he's getting better, getting closer," said Wild coach Mike Yeo on Koivu.
San Jose will be without Douglas Murray (fractured Adam's apple) and Martin Havlat (hamstring), but should otherwise be healthy. The Sharks are playing the final game of a nine-game road trip which has seen San Jose go 2-5-1 and drop out of the top spot in the Pacific Division.
The Sharks, who lost 6-2 in Nashville last night, arrived early this morning and did not skate. With the early face-off tonight and the end of a long road trip in sight, it will be interesting to see how much energy the Sharks have left in the tank.
Following Friday's trade that brought both of them back to the Wild in exchange for defensemen Marek Zidlicky, both say they are excited to be back in a familiar spot and are looking forward to helping Minnesota make one final playoff push.
For Foster, a fan-favorite during his first stint with the Wild, his stop in Minnesota will be his third team this season. After starting the year in Anaheim, the Ducks traded him to New Jersey. He played just nine games on the west coast and only 28 with the Devils.
"You never like being traded," Foster said. "But when you come to a team like this… I've been here, know a lot of the guys, know the city, know how great the fans are, it definitely makes it a lot easier."
Foster and his booming shot will immediately step into Zidlicky's role on the No. 1 power play and will pair with Justin Falk, providing the Wild with a couple of big bodies on the blueline.
"A steady, reliable puck mover, someone who is going to help out our power play," said Wild coach Mike Yeo. "You look at the amount of offense we've been able to generate from the back end this year and certainly he will be a welcome addition."
For Veilleux, his return to the Twin Cities is more personal. His wife is from the area, so he has tried on a couple of occasions to return to Minnesota, but it hasn't worked out. Now 30 years old, Veilleux has spent all but one game with Albany in the AHL this season after playing overseas last year and looks at the move back to the Wild as a chance to get his career back on track.
"Couldn't be happier," Veilleux said. "When I got the call yesterday, it was just a great feeling."
Veilleux scored a career-high 13 goals in 2008-09 with the Wild, his final season in Minnesota, but his role here now isn't to score goals in bunches… although as one of the lowest scoring teams in the NHL, the Wild would take it.
"He is full of energy," Yeo said. "His speed is going to be a factor. I'm really anxious to get his energy and his life into our lineup."
ST. PAUL -- The Marek Zidlicky watch is in full effect today at Xcel Energy Center.
The disgruntled defenseman, subject of trade rumors for much of the last 24 hours, skated this morning for the Wild, but will be a healthy scratch tonight against Winnipeg.
It's not to say a trade is imminent, or is even going to happen at this point. But the trade talk has been so thick in the Twin Cities of late that Wild coach Mike Yeo made the decision to sit Zidlicky down tonight -- the fifth time this season he will be scratched.
"All coaching decision," Yeo said. "I don't know what's going on. I don't know what is going to happen. But what I can say is, it's quite obvious that focus-wise, it'd be a tough game for him to go out and perform the way we need him to."
Zidlicky's desire to leave Minnesota became obvious last month when he told Michael Russo of the Minneapolis Star Tribune of his displeasure about being scratched three games in January. On Wednesday, TSN's Darren Dreger reported Zidlicky had waived his no-trade clause in order to facilitate a trade to New Jersey. Wild general manager Chuck Fletcher said he had not approached Zidlicky about a trade to the Devils, or anywhere else for that matter.
It is believed Fletcher is working on something, but as of early Thursday afternoon, there was nothing new to report.
Zidlicky's teammates say it's business as usual, especially for a team desperate to break a five-game losing skid. The Wild have also lost four games in a row at Xcel Energy Center, the first time that's ever happened.
"Everybody reads the papers and is aware of what's in the papers. There's no secrets anymore," Wild forward Matt Cullen said. "That sort of thing, you can't allow to creep in. You just have to leave it alone, and let that take care of itself. Guys are aware of what's going on, but to be honest, there's really nothing we can do about it.
"As a player, you've got plenty to worry about, getting yourself to play and trying to find a way to win a game here."
In that regard, both the Wild and Jets have plenty on their plates. Minnesota has lost 21 of 26 games, a stretch that began Dec. 13 in Winnipeg. At the time, the Wild had won seven straight games and were the best team in the National Hockey League.
"And do you want me to cry or what?" said Jets coach Claude Noel when asked about the quirky statistic. "It's funny, because some teams, when you're hot like they were when they came in, some teams springboard off of a game like that. We've springboarded off that game and had a pretty good month. We've used that to build confidence.
"When you watch them play at that time and then now, you can see the magnitude of what confidence does with a team, both good and bad."
The Jets pounded on the Wild physically that night, including a Zach Bogosian check-from-behind on Pierre-Marc Bouchard that some feel is the main reason why Bouchard has missed several weeks, and could perhaps miss the rest of season, with yet another concussion. Bouchard missed a couple of games after that because of a broken nose and facial lacerations, but returned for a spell shortly after. On injured reserve since Jan. 7, the Bogosian hit is believed to be the incident that set the wheels in motion on yet another head injury for Bouchard.
Bogosian is not in St. Paul because of a lower-body injury. Noel said he will be re-evaluated tomorrow and will be a game-time decision against Boston on Friday.
Both Minnesota and Winnipeg are both struggling to score of late, with the Wild 29th in the NHL in goals per game and the Jets 25th. Winnipeg took the first game by a score of 2-1, and it wouldn't be a surprise to see a similar score tonight.
"Just the way both teams play, I see it being a low-scoring game," Noel said. "I think it has the makings of a good game, a really good game. Both teams are going to have some urgency."
On the lineup front, Chris Mason will start in goal for the Jets. He's lost three straight starts, but has allowed just two goals in each of his last two. He hasn't played since a 2-1 loss at Florida on Feb. 3.
For Minnesota, Yeo said winger Cal Clutterbuck looked good this morning and will skate before the game. He's missed two games with a charley horse and is a game-time decision tonight. If Clutterbuck can't go, Jeff Taffe, called up Wednesday from AHL Houston, will take his place. Cody Almond, also just called up, will play, taking the place of Carson McMillan, who was placed on injured reserve following Minnesota's 2-1 loss to Anaheim Tuesday.
ST. PAUL -- Talk about two teams headed in opposite directions: Tonight's contest in the State of Hockey features perhaps the league's hottest team (Anaheim) and its coldest (Minnesota).
The Wild, in the midst of a four-game homestand, have slid from the top spot in the NHL all the way to 12th in the Western Conference, five points behind eighth-place Phoenix. After losing twice to League-worst Columbus in a five-day span, including a 3-1 loss here Saturday night, the Wild have juggled their lines and called up two more players -- one familiar and one who will make his NHL debut this evening.
First, defenseman Marco Scandella will make his return to the big club after a stint with AHL Houston. When the Wild were going well earlier in the season, Scandella was a major reason why. He was sent down to Houston a month ago after a rough stretch, to work on his game and regain his confidence.
"It feels good to be back," Scandella said. "I went down there with a positive attitude. If you think about [getting called back up] too much, it'll make you crazy. I just played hockey and had fun."
Scandella said he worked on "being sharp" and "having confidence on the ice in making plays." He'll have that opportunity tonight paired with Jared Spurgeon, perhaps the Wild's most willing shooter from the blue line.
"It's always fun to play with him because you always know what he's going to do on the ice," Scandella said. "He's predicable for a d-partner and that's what you need."
Making his NHL debut tonight will be Calgary-native Kris Foucault. A fourth-round pick of the Wild in 2009, Foucault has 10 goals and 13 assists in 47 games in Houston, his first in the American Hockey League. He scored 47 goals in two seasons in the Western Hockey League from 2009-11, and was called up to Minnesota for one reason.
"We need goals, and he is a guy that has a chance to make a play," Wild coach Mike Yeo said.
Yeo has also shifted center Matt Cullen to the wing with Kyle Brodziak and Nick Johnson. Brodziak and Johnson did wonders to jump-start Dany Heatley's game a couple of weeks back, and Yeo said he's hoping the duo can do the same for Cullen.
"Culley's been playing well, the numbers haven't been there for him," Yeo said. "But he's doing a lot of good things. It's about surrounding him with guys who are capable of helping him to take advantage of his skill and what he can do out there.
"We saw what Heater was able to do with Brodzy and Johnny, so I think it gives Brodzy and Johnny someone who is a real threat on that line. On top of that, it gives Culley someone who's done a lot of good things for us, some really quality players that give him something more to work with."
In goal, Yeo said he is turning to Josh Harding tonight. The start will be Harding's first since a disastrous third period Jan. 31 against Nashville where the Wild blew a 4-1 lead over the game's final 10 minutes. The Predators scored three goals over the game's final three minutes, including the game-winner with 20 seconds remaining in regulation.
"We haven't won, so we have to switch it up," Yeo said.
The challenge tonight for Harding will be if has put the Nashville collapse in the rear-view mirror.
"He has to," Yeo said. "It's been a little while now. I know Hards has the ability to be a starting goalie in the NHL. He's proven it this year. But in order for that to happen, these are the kind of things you have to deal with."
ST. PAUL -- Down the hall from the home team at the Xcel Energy Center, the Anaheim Ducks have been a picture of stability. Tonight's contest against the Minnesota Wild is the Ducks' third in a string of eight straight road games -- a franchise record. Anaheim lost in a shootout to Detroit on Feb. 10, but bounced back nicely Sunday with a 5-3 win at Columbus.
After an abysmal start -- one which cost Randy Carlyle his job -- new coach Bruce Boudreau has the Ducks firing on all cylinders. At 12-3-3 since the first of the year, the Ducks have climbed to within 10 points of the eighth and final playoff spot in the Western Conference. Their 27 points in that span is third-best in the League.
"It's all about confidence, having everybody on the same page," Ducks forward Teemu Selanne said. "We're trying to enjoy the moment right now and hopeful we can stay hot."
Selanne, playing in his 20th NHL season, is on the verge of climbing the League's career scoring charts. With his next goal, Selanne will tie Brendan Shanahan for 12th on the all-time list. He's also three points shy of matching Luc Robitaille for 20th on the all-time scoring chart and two power-play goals short of Robitaille for fourth on that list.
Selanne has 5 points, all assists, against the Wild in three games this season. Minnesota has won two of the three previous matchups.
And while Minnesota has struggled to score of late, the Ducks boast two lines that can seemingly score at will. Corey Perry netted a hat trick and fired a career-high 11 shots on goal in Sunday's win at Columbus. Ryan Getzlaf has 12 points over his last 13 games.
"Our first two lines, if they are playing their best, can be the best in the League," Ducks goalie Jonas Hiller said. "We have a good third and fourth line right now, too. Everybody's working together.
"Before, we had lots of ups and downs. Some nights, some guys were playing and some were not. Now, most nights, everybody is here 100 percent. Guys are willing to work and give everything. That's been the difference."
Hiller has been rock-solid himself, stopping shots at almost a 93-percent clip and allowing less than two goals per over his last 16 games. He is 10-2-3 over that stretch with one no-decision.
ST. PAUL -- In mid-December, when the Wild were the best team in the National Hockey League, they led Vancouver in the Northwest Division standings by as many as five points.
Less than two months later, the Canucks lead Minnesota by 13 points, and if the Wild are going to make one final push to narrow that gap, it must begin tonight. Minnesota just wrapped up a brutal portion of its schedule, playing 15 of its last 23 games on the road. Minnesota has won just five games during that stretch, capturing the second fewest points in the NHL in that time.
Tonight's game opens a stretch of four in a row, five of six and 18 of 29 the rest of the way at the friendly confines of Xcel Energy Center, where Minnesota is 13-7-3 this season.
In its quest to get back on track, Minnesota will not have to face nemesis Roberto Luongo, who has shut out the Wild in three consecutive starts. He's the first goalie in the NHL to shut out one team three straight times since Evgeni Nabokov did it to the Coyotes in 2007.
With that kind of recent history against the Wild, one would have thought Luongo a cinch to get the start tonight, but his history in this building is less than stellar. Over his last three starts at the Xcel Energy Center, Luongo's goals against average is 7, he's stopped just 77 percent of shots faced and has not finished a game. For his career, Luongo is 3-9-2 in St. Paul.
Enter Cory Schneider, who started the only game the two teams have played in Minnesota this season back on Nov. 3. Minnesota won that game 5-1.
"Probably the most impressive offensive effort I've seen all season," Schneider said. "But we're a different team right now than we were at the beginning of the year and we know we can beat this team. We have in our building."
Neither Schneider or Canucks coach Alain Vigneault could offer much of any reason why this series has taken on such a home-team edge. It seems neither one of these teams can win in their opponent's barn.
"They've given us real hard battles in this building," Vigneault said. "For some reason, in this building, we haven't been as good as we can be. We're usually a really good road team, but for some reason, this building has been a challenge for us."
If Minnesota is going to continue its hot streak against the Canucks in St. Paul, the Wild will need more from a struggling power play, which scored on less than 10 percent of its chances during the road-heavy stretch. But that won't be an easy task against Vancouver, which has shut out the Wild power play on 12 chances this season. The Wild haven't scored a goal against the Canucks with the man advantage since February of last season, when Cal Clutterbuck potted a power-play goal 359 days ago.
Among the lowest scoring teams in the NHL, the Wild are 12-7-2 when scoring with the extra attacker this season.
"They've played well together all year long," Yeo said.
Newcomer Erik Christensen, making his home debut for the Wild tonight, has been moved to wing on the second line with Matt Cullen and Cal Clutterbuck, giving Minnesota a skilled second line it has been missing of late. Yeo said he was pleased with how Clutterbuck and Cullen played with Pierre-Marc Bouchard earlier in the season, another skilled winger.
"That was a pretty effective line for us," Yeo said. "Obviously Christensen is not Butch, they're both different players. But both have skill, both make plays. Hopefully, they'll find a little bit of that magic again."
In goal for Minnesota will be Niklas Backstrom, who has been stellar for Minnesota over the past three games. Although his record over that stretch is just 1-1-1, the Wild have provided him with only three goals total of support.
On the injury front, the Wild placed defenseman Clayton Stoner on injured reserve with a lower body injury. There is no timetable on his return. Koivu was removed from IR today, so no further roster moves are pending.
For Vancouver, winger Dale Weise's CT scan on his foot was negative. He participated in the morning skate and is a game-time decision.
ST. PAUL -- While one captain looks as though he will continue his ironman streak tonight at Xcel Energy Center, another looks to start a new one.
Minnesota's Mikko Koivu is expected to return after missing the Wild's last eight games with an upper-body injury. Clinging to the eighth and final playoff spot in the west, Koivu's return could be a major boon to a Wild squad kicking off a critical four-game homestand against the rival Canucks, who appear likely to have Henrik Sedin in the lineup tonight.
"I feel good, I feel stronger, the last couple of days have been good," Koivu said.
Koivu skated today between wingers Dany Heatley and Devin Setoguchi, reuniting a line that had been split up with Koivu out of the lineup. Koivu's return could also help spark a Minnesota offense that has sputtered of late, scoring just three goals total over the Wild's last three games. To its credit, Minnesota has gone 1-1-1 in that stretch.
"As much as anything else, just his leadership, he's a warrior out there. That's contagious with the rest of the group," Wild coach Mike Yeo said. "With what he contributes and the role he has with our team, his play and the situations we put him out in and his effectiveness in those situations."
ST. PAUL -- Officially, Vancouver's Henrik Sedin is a game-time decision for tonight against the Minnesota Wild at Xcel Energy Center, but all signs point to the Canucks captain being ready to go.
"It felt OK, better than yesterday, so that's a good sign," Sedin said. "We'll see, we'll see how it feels before the game. I guess it's a game-time decision."
Asked if he felt tonight like he did at this morning's skate, where Sedin was a full participant, he chucked. "We'll see tonight," he said with a smile.
Sedin did walk through the locker room with a slight limp, but the CT scan taken yesterday on his ailing ankle came back negative, meaning no broken bones. Even if Sedin was held from the lineup after pre-game warmups, there is no serious injury present, big news for a team battling for the top spot in the Western Conference. His presence would certainly be a big lift for a Vancouver locker room that wasn't sure of the captain's condition until today.
"I think when you see a guy go through that and he's out there practicing, he leads by example. He has a lot of respect in this room," Canucks forward Ryan Kesler said. "He has a pretty good streak going, so hopefully he can continue it."
Sedin hasn't missed a game since 2004, and should he play tonight, his consecutive game streak will reach 553 -- second-longest in the NHL. But he said continuing that streak will not weigh into his decision on whether to play tonight or not.
"It's one of those things where if you're able to play, you play," Sedin said. "[The streak] has never been on my mind at all."
ST. PAUL -- Following a week-long break for both teams, Nashville and Minnesota resume play Tuesday night at Xcel Energy Center.
In many ways, these teams have gone through similar peaks and valleys over the season's first half. The Wild began the season red-hot, winning 17 of 21 games through a stretch that lasted until mid-December. Since then, Minnesota has tumbled, dropping from the top spot in the NHL to eighth in the West.
Nashville, meanwhile, started rather slow but has picked it up lately, winning 12 of 15 since the Christmas break. Included in that run is a 2-1 win against the Wild in their last meeting. That contest was a low-scoring affair, with a goal by each team in the third period sending the game into overtime and shootout, where Colin Wilson netted the winner for the Predators.
Of course, low-scoring games are nothing new to either one of these teams. Minnesota has one of the lowest scoring offenses in the league. And against Nashville, the Wild seem especially snake-bitten. Predators goalie Pekka Rinne has three shutouts against Minnesota in 10 career starts, owning a 7-3-1 record all-time against Minnesota, with a 2.02 goals against and a save percentage north of 92 percent.
"They've got great goaltending and solid defense and so do we," Predators defenseman Shea Weber said. "We expect a tight game."
Rinne's stingy nature against the Wild has extended to a League-wide hex of late, as the 6-foot-5 Finn has won each of his last nine starts and has allowed two goals or less in each game. Since winning that game against Minnesota in late December, Rinne is 12-1-0 with a 1.60 goals against and a .947 save percentage -- all three marks among the top-three in the NHL.
"Him playing well against this team, and us playing well against this team, I don't have the answer. Sometimes it's just the team," Nashville coach Barry Trotz said. "Jack Skille, before he got traded [by Chicago], scored like eight goals and I think about six of them were against us. It just happens."
Minnesota has struggled while Rinne has dominated the League, but the Wild entered the All-Star break on a high note, winning two games in a row -- both on the road against Dallas and Colorado and both against teams in a dogfight with the Wild for the final playoff spot in the west. Minnesota heads back onto the road after the game Tuesday and will lead off with the Avs and Stars again.
That makes this contest all the more important – as with Nashville's spot in the tight Central Division standings, every game is critical from here on out.
"It's playoff hockey for us right now, it has been for a long time," Wild winger Cal Clutterbuck said. "We need to respond."
Weber and defensive partner Ryan Suter were the only two players from either team to play in Sunday's All-Star Game in Ottawa. Minnesota representative Mikko Koivu missed the game with injury, although he has skated and practiced each of the last two days. Nick Johnson participated in the skills competition Saturday night.
"Just a good time to get our brains off hockey for a few days," Clutterbuck said. "It's really the division of the ultimate push and the rest of the year, in terms of what is considered crunch time."
Koivu and Guillaume Latendresse are both inching closer to a return for Minnesota, with Koivu likely closer than Latendresse -- who has missed much of the season with a concussion. He has skated and practiced each of the last two days as well, although Wild coach Mike Yeo would not provide a timetable for their returns.
Minnesota will counter Rinne in goal with Josh Harding, who owns a 4-4-1 career mark against Nashville with a 2.64 goals against and a .914 save percentage.
Yeo is hoping either he or Niklas Backstrom, who has struggled mightily of late, can take control of the job between the pipes for the Wild.
"Down the stretch, it's a lot easier for a guy to prepare and get into a groove knowing they are playing," Yeo said. "We're not going to just give it to anybody. Somebody is going to have to step up and take it."
ST. PAUL -- They could very well have a Colorado College class reunion tonight here in the Twin Cities.
It's "Hockey Day Minnesota" here in the North Star State, a day where, you guessed it, it's nothing but hockey. High school games are on the local Fox Sports North affiliate all day long. The schedule coincides with all levels too. FSN has two high school games on during the morning and early afternoon, the University of Minnesota at 5 p.m. and a late faceoff for the Wild and Stars at 8 p.m.
In preparation for the contest tonight, the Wild called up four players from Houston of the American Hockey League on Friday, trying anything at this point to snap out of its month-long funk. Expect Chad Rau, a Colorado College alum, to make his National Hockey League debut tonight. Also called up was defenseman Nate Prosser, another former Tiger.
For Dallas, forward Toby Peterson is expected to be in the lineup and perhaps goaltender Richard Bachman -- both CC alums themselves.
The Golden Gophers opponent across town at Mariucci Arena is … Colorado College. Needless to say, there should be plenty of CC black and gold in both arenas this evening.
Along with Rau, the Wild also called up bruising forward Matt Kassian and veteran Jed Ortmeyer, while reassigning forwards Casey Wellman and David McIntyre. The goal, according to coach Mike Yeo, was to simply get a different look. The Wild have won just twice since Dec. 13 and have lost 15 of their last 17 games.
"We're going to try whatever it takes right now," Yeo said. "These guys should have a positive mind-frame coming into the game, they're going going to be excited to play, which we need right now.
"It's amazing how much of the game is played between the ears."
Without saying so, Yeo has clearly started sending messages to his veterans, especially on the blueline, where Marek Zidlicky and Mike Lundin will both be healthy scratches in favor of a younger, more inexperienced player like Prosser.
"We've worked D-Zone coverage the last couple of weeks like crazy," Yeo said. "Then we get into a game and it's like 'What the heck is going on right now?' Guys know we're making mistakes and they keep happening."
For Rau, making his NHL debut on 'Hockey Day' makes it extra special. His younger brother Kyle is a freshman at the University of Minnesota, meaning plenty of his family will shuttle from one arena to the other between the games, which are about a 15-minute drive from one another.
"It's going to be a long day of hockey," Rau said. "It should work out perfect."
Rau was called up last month when the Wild were in Vancouver, but was a healthy scratch. He was sent back to Houston shortly after. Tonight, he will center Kassian and Ortmeyer on Minnesota's fourth line.
Dallas did not skate this morning as the Stars got into the Twin Cities late after playing Tampa Bay at home Friday night. The Lightning won 2-1.
Reports after the game indicated Stars coach Glen Gulutzan was quite unhappy with the effort against Tampa and let his team know about it afterwards.
“The most frustrating part was really the first 30 minutes of getting outworked. That’s always the most frustrating part,” Gulutzan said, according to ESPNDallas.com. “I’ve got no problem if you go in a shootout or you play hard and you just don’t get results. When you only play 30 minutes, some team comes into your building on a Friday night and outplays you for 30 minutes, I have a real big problem with that.”
The Stars, like Minnesota, are battling injury problems. Mike Ribiero and Jamie Benn are both out tonight, although Benn may return as soon as Tuesday.
“You have to work 60 minutes. We have to work 60 minutes every night with everyone in our lineup if we want to play in the playoffs," Gulutzan said. "You have to make them aware that they are not good enough – with or without Jamie Benn and Mike Ribeiro in the lineup – to not be a hardworking team. That’s the message. They are just not good enough.”
The two teams are separated by just a single point in the Western Conference standings, so expect both teams to put forth a blue collar effort tonight at Xcel Energy Center.
ST. PAUL -- When Moorhead, Minn., native Matt Cullen decided to sign with his hometown Wild two summers ago, he knew playing for Minnesota could perhaps be the final chapter of a solid National Hockey League career.
Tonight, that career reaches quite a milestone as the veteran center, who has also skated for five other teams, will play in his 1,000th career NHL game when the Wild host the Sharks.
"It's a fun time to look back," Cullen said. "It's been a long ride, been a lot of fun and I'm pretty lucky to be where I am. It's exciting."
Cullen has been asked a few times in recent days about some of his favorite games. He said one stands out clearly in his mind.
"Oh yeah, Game 7 for sure, Stanley Cup Finals," Cullen said, referring to the Carolina Hurricanes' run to the Cup in 2006. "That's the ultimate for a player, and to win that at home, that's definitely the best memory."
Cullen also remembers his first shift in the League in 1997-98, when the Anaheim Ducks were still the Mighty Ducks.
"It's funny how fast it goes, but I've enjoyed it," Cullen said. "I love the game. It's been good to me. It's been more than I ever could have asked for."
Over his first 999 career games, Cullen has scored 191 goals and added 332 assists. With three shots on goal tonight, Cullen will also record his 2,000th NHL shot.
ST. PAUL -- Tonight's game between San Jose and Minnesota is definitely a tale of two teams heading in opposite directions. The Sharks have won eight of their last 10 games and have captured at least one point in 12 of 14 games since the Wild won 2-1 Dec. 6 at HP Pavilion.
Minnesota has continued to struggle and has yet to win a game in 2012. Exactly one month ago, the Wild defeated Phoenix 4-1 to capture their seventh consecutive win. At the time, Minnesota was the best team in the National Hockey League.
What a difference a month makes.
The Wild have won just once since then, and have tumbled to the precipice of the Western Conference playoff race, just one point ahead of both Colorado and Dallas for the eighth and final postseason spot. Their record over that stretch is a brutal 1-8-3.
"We've watched their game, and I'm not sure their record is indicative of their play," Sharks coach Todd McClellan said. "They're doing some good things as a team, and they still have their identity they are playing towards. The difference is maybe a post that goes against them that used to go in.
"I think we'll have our hands full, especially in the first 10 or 15 minutes of this game."
Tonight's game also marks the return of popular former Wild defenseman Brent Burns to Xcel Energy Center. Minnesota's first round pick in 2003 Entry Draft, Burns spent the first seven seasons of his NHL career with the Wild before being traded to San Jose last offseason for Devin Setoguchi, a prospect and a draft pick.
Burns scored 46 points for the Wild last season, and though he's quite a bit off that pace (he has just 13 points in 38 games), he's offered the Sharks a steady offensive threat from the blue line and a plus-10 rating.
"I'm excited and nervous to come back," said Burns, who still owns a home in the area. "The first one is always going to be tough. Driving through the city, seeing places I used to eat. Staying at the hotel was a little weird. But it's been fun."
Burns, who was a fan favorite and a staple in the community, should receive a warm welcome when introduced this evening.
"It was tough to see him leave," said Wild defenseman Nick Schultz, one of Burns' best friends. "He was a great player for this team and a big part away from the rink too."
Many in Minnesota expected Marco Scandella to be his eventual replacement with the Wild, and after he made the team out of training camp, Scandella was extremely solid over the season's first couple of months. But his play of late has been indicative of the team's, and on Monday, the Wild sent Scandella back to AHL Houston, where he spent a large chunk of last season. A minus-10, Scandella has just six points in 30 games this season.
The move should free up playing time for the veterans among Minnesota's defensive corps. Greg Zanon and Mike Lundin have been healthy scratches several times over the last week, and coach Mike Yeo has said the numbers game back there has put some undue pressure on all his defensemen.
"Just because he's down doesn't mean we can't bring him right back up," Schultz said. "Guys have to go out and perform and do their job."
Goaltender Josh Harding will earn the start tonight for Minnesota. He started the game a month ago in California and allowed a goal before being knocked from the game just over a minute in after taking a stick to the head.
ST. PAUL -- The most surprising news out of the Minnesota Wild's morning skate came from general manager Chuck Fletcher, who announced forward Pierre-Marc Bouchard has been placed on injured reserve because of lingering concussion-like symptoms.
Bouchard, who missed Minnesota's game in Calgary on Saturday and sat out practice Monday, was believed to have a groin injury. Fletcher said his groin was a problem, too, but since he took a check from behind from Zach Bogosian in Winnipeg last month, Fletcher said Bouchard has "felt a little pressure from time to time."
Bouchard initially missed a couple of games right after the hit with a broken nose and some facial lacerations. The concussion diagnosis for him is more alarming because of his history with that injury -- Bouchard missed 81 games in 2009-10 with the same injury.
Along with fellow second-liner Guillaume Latendresse, also out indefinitely with a concussion, the slumping Wild are now down two of their best scorers -- not the best news for a team ranked 29th in the NHL in goals scored.
"Our recipe can't change," Wild coach Mike Yeo said. "More than anything else, this is our opportunity to get back to that fight. I don't think we've had that lately.
"Looking at the goals we scored [when the Wild were winning], we'd be spearing pucks into the net, guys crashing and falling into the crease. If that's what we need to do, then that's what we need to do. But let's not just say it stinks to have this guy out. Let's get that fight."
ST. PAUL, Minn. -- Traditionally, Minnesota does not skate before 5 p.m. starts, but its injured guys did go through quite a workout Saturday morning. Guys on the ice included forwards Devin Setoguchi (lower body) and Casey Wellman (upper body) and defenseman Clayton Stoner (lower body). Mike Lundin also skated Saturday morning, but he is not injured and is expected to be a healthy scratch Saturday.
Defenseman Jared Spurgeon skated for a bit as he recovers from his lower-body injury, but he left the ice well before the others.
The Wild have recalled forward Jed Ortmeyer from Houston (American Hockey League) and he should be available for Saturday night's game. Expect Colton Gillies to replace Jarod Palmer in the lineup Saturday after Palmer was injured in Thursday's 4-3 win against Edmonton.
For Phoenix, only defensemen Derek Morris and David Rundblad were skaters on the ice Saturday morning. Morris' presence could indicate the return of veteran Adrian Aucoin to the lineup, who is trying to return from a lower-body injury.
Jason LaBarbera also skated, meaning Curtis McElhinney could be in line to start in goal this evening. If he does, it will be his first start for Phoenix this season and just his second game action after entering for LaBarbera in the third period Monday night in a 4-3 loss to Los Angeles.
ST. PAUL, Minn. -- With one long losing streak against the Minnesota Wild already in the history books, the Edmonton Oilers will look to break another tonight when the two Northwest Division rivals faceoff tonight at Xcel Energy Center.
The game between the Wild and Oilers will be their sixth and final game against one another this season.
In the last game between these two teams in St. Paul, the Oilers defeated the Wild 5-2 to win at Xcel Energy Center for the first time in 17 games. In goal for Minnesota that night was Josh Harding, not the starter for tonight's contest, Niklas Backstrom -- who has never lost to Edmonton in his home building (15-0-0).
The Oilers may receive a bit of help in that regard as winger Ales Hemsky skated this morning and coach Tom Renney said he's a game-time decision. Hemsky hasn't played since being sidelined with a sinus infection. He's missed the last two games.
Renney said Hemsky looked good and he would have an idea before pregame warm-ups whether Hemsky would be available.
"He thinks he can play," Renney said. "He'll take a nap this afternoon, come back to the rink and we'll see how he feels."
Having all the offense the Oilers can find would benefit them tonight against an offensively-challenged Minnesota team which has scored just 10 goals during its current 8-game losing streak. The Wild lost 2-1 in a shootout last night in Nashville and the team did not skate this morning.
Edmonton forward Jordan Eberle will look to continue his red-hot play of late. He's scored 5 goals over his last four games and has a five-game points streak heading into action tonight.
"Even when I hadn't scored in my first seven [games], I was feeling confident," Eberle said. "I knew then it was just a matter of time before the pucks started going in and you get on that roll."
He's also paced an Oiler power play that has scored 8 goals in the team's past seven games. Eberle has scored a power-play goal in 3 straight games, including one in a 4-1 win over the Wild in Edmonton last Thursday.
"Our power play, I think, has been pretty good all year," Eberle said. "We just seem to be clicking right now. And I think if we can get more shots, we can have even more success."
In terms of a game plan tonight, Renney said his team needs a good start to have success.
"They're going to show us right off the bat that they are here to play," Renney said.
KASSIAN IN, DiSALVATORE OUT -- Following last night's loss in Nashville, the Wild recalled forward Matt Kassian from AHL Houston and reassigned right wing Jon DiSalvatore. Kassian has played in two games for the Wild this season, posting 5 penalty minutes.
Kassian has 32 penalty minutes in Houston this season, scoring 2 goals in 19 games. The 6-foot-5, 247-pounder -- an Edmonton native -- will give Minnesota's lineup more of a physical look.
Setoguchi has missed the Wild's last 11 games -- with the team going 2-5-3 over that stretch, falling from the top team in the NHL to sixth best in the Western Conference.
"I'm feeling good, feeling better and better each day," Setoguchi said. "It's a matter of getting to the point where you don't think you're going to hurt yourself if you go out there and play, and getting your legs and your lungs back. But I'm definitely making strides."
Setoguchi said his goal all along has been to be back practicing by the new year. With 2012 just a couple of days away, that timetable is still intact, and Setoguchi said he could be back at practice as soon as tomorrow. That said, the team is in no hurry to rush him back.
ST. PAUL, Minn. -- It's pretty safe to say the Christmas break came at a good time for the Minnesota Wild.
With captain Mikko Koivu ailing and the team having lost six straight games, three days off offered the Wild a unique opportunity to forget about their losing streak and get some of their firepower back heading into tonight's game against Northwest Division rival Colorado.
And while Minnesota is still without three valuable forwards, the big news from Xcel Energy Center this morning is the return of Koivu to the Wild lineup after missing the last five games due to a lower-body injury.
"No matter how we were playing, it's huge for us," Wild coach Mike Yeo said. "In every aspect of our game, and how we play it, he's the leader.
"More importantly, in just the attitude we want to bring to the rink and that fighting spirit that's made us so successful. He's the leader in that as well."
Yeo was less willing to discuss the six-game losing skid the Wild are currently on, focusing instead on what's ahead. After a loss in Winnipeg on Dec. 13, Minnesota suffered a pair of shootout losses at home to Chicago and the New York Islanders. Koivu was lost on the last shift of overtime against the Blackhawks. Minnesota then looked lost on a three-game division road trip to Vancouver, Calgary and Edmonton last week. Over that six-game streak, the Wild have scored just seven goals.
"I want to put that behind us," Yeo said. "We said what we needed to say after that one and we talked about it. We know what happened before the break. … But we had the break. It came at the perfect time. Now, it's all about moving forward."
Wild forward Dany Heatley said it was good to leave hockey behind for a couple of days in order to recharge the batteries and let the minor bumps and bruises heal.
"Obviously with the way that last road trip went, it was good to get away for a couple days," Heatley said.
In terms of a game plan for tonight, Yeo said the key for both teams will be getting a fast start, especially after a layoff.
"How quick can you get your game going?" Yeo said. "It doesn't seem like much, but in three days, things can slip rather quickly."
For Minnesota, limiting the red-hot Avalanche power play is something Yeo said the Wild will focus on. They can do that, he said, by limiting Colorado's puck possession. Ranked sixth in the League at just a shade over 20 percent, Colorado will attempt to take advantage of a Minnesota penalty kill ranked eighth.
The Avs will be at a distinct disadvantage from a travel perspective, as the team is en route to Minnesota this morning and will not even arrive at Xcel Energy Center until the afternoon. Normally, teams travel to a city the day before a game, but because of the NHL's rules on holiday travel, the Avalanche did not leave Denver until 9:30 a.m. Central Time -- less than eight hours before tonight's 5 p.m. faceoff.
Needless to say, Colorado did not skate this morning and hasn't been on the ice since Friday when it defeated Tampa Bay 2-1 in overtime at the Pepsi Center.
The Avalanche have won four in a row overall, and set a franchise record Friday by winning their eighth straight home game. But that success has not translated on the road, where Colorado has lost nine in a row, including a 1-0 loss at Xcel Energy Center on Nov. 17.
The last road victory for the Avs came before Halloween, Oct. 22, in a shootout at Chicago. Their last win on the road in regulation was Oct. 13 at Ottawa, which was their sixth consecutive win on the road to start the season.
ST. PAUL, Minn. – Tonight could be a battle of attrition for the Wild and Islanders.
Both teams enter play battling a number of injuries. New York will welcome back a couple of key pieces tonight, including defenseman Andy MacDonald, who hasn't played since Nov. 29 at Buffalo because of a right leg injury.
MacDonald should help an Islanders special teams crew that has struggled of late.
"I sense the frustration setting in on the power play and that can’t happen," coach Jack Capuano told the team's website. "All our power play goals have come from getting pucks to the net. We aren’t doing it right now and that’s a problem."
Also back this evening will be forward Nino Niederreiter, who suffered a concussion Dec. 3 against Dallas and missed five games.
Defenseman Mark Eaton, who has missed the last 11 games, will not play tonight, although Capuano mentioned he is "close." Capuano also confirmed Brian Rolston's concussion after some additional testing. There is no timetable for his return.
Tonight will also mark a homecoming for Islanders forward Kyle Okposo. Born "two minutes down the road," Okposo said he will have a number of family members in attendance tonight. He also said he was able to have a family Christmas party at his mom's house last night.
Injuries have also been a problem for the Wild, who have suffered a litany of setbacks all season -- first with their defensemen and now with their forwards.
Team captain Mikko Koivu -- who sustained a lower-body injury on the final shift of overtime in Minnesota's Wednesday night loss to Chicago, will not play this evening and the team hopes to have him back by Christmas. He skated in his warm-up suit before the team's morning skate.
Also among the walking wounded is Pierre-Marc Bouchard, who missed the game Wednesday after being checked head-first into the boards at Winnipeg on Tuesday. The winger suffered a broken nose and facial lacerations. He skated with Koivu this morning, but also practiced and Wild coach Mike Yeo said he's a game-time decision.
If he can't go, Yeo said the team will go with seven defensemen. Should Bouchard be able to play, it appears veteran defenseman Greg Zanon will be the odd-man out again, as he was Wednesday night.
"He looked great," Yeo said of Bouchard. "It's just a matter of seeing how he feels this afternoon."
If Bouchard is out, Zanon will play because forward Casey Wellman -- hampered by a wrist injury -- has been ruled out this evening.
"Seeing him shoot the puck, he can't go out and play the way we need him to play," Yeo said.
Forwards Guillaume Latendresse (concussion) and Devin Setoguchi (lower body) did not skate today and remain out indefinitely, although Yeo said Setoguchi will travel with the team on their upcoming three-game road trip.
With all of the injuries, Yeo said it's critical for some guys to play their roles better.
"We have to have guys that play big tonight," Yeo said. "Missing a lot of guys like this, play big in your own game. Don't take yourself out of that. Nothing should change for us, really. We should be ready to come in here and grind it out."
Wild forward Jarod Palmer will also make his NHL debut tonight. The 25-year old native of Fridley, Minn. had four goals and six assists in 26 games with Houston in the NHL and was a plus-eight.
"The challenge is keeping your head together, keeping your head in it," Palmer said. "You can't get to high or low. Stay even keeled, play smart and be ready to play."
ST. PAUL, Minn. -- Ray Emery his starter on Tuesday afternoon. It'll be Emery's fifth straight game and his fourth start in the last five. Emery was the goalie of record in Chicago's 3-2 overtime win Sunday against San Jose, stopping 35 shots and improving his record this season to 6-1-2.
"He's played well all year," said coach Joel Quenneville. "He's earned the opportunity to keep on going. He's got the confidence, he's been productive and we want to keep it going as long as we can."
He made 42 saves in a 5-3 win against Minnesota as a member of the Ottawa Senators in November 2006 -- his lone career start against the Wild.
ST. PAUL, Minn. -- It'll be a homecoming game for a few members of the Blackhawks tonight when they take the ice here against the Minnesota Wild (7:30 p.m. ET, Versus).
Among them is Andrew Brunette, the fourth-leading scorer in Wild franchise history.
He said he's not putting too much stock into his return, however, and hopes to keep the focus on the business of netting points.
"I'm looking forward to getting this game over with," said Brunette, who had 321 points in 489 games with the Wild. "The first one is never a fun one. I really just want to get our two points and get out of here. I think the next time back, it'll be a little different."
Brunette said the atmosphere tonight could be playoff-like.
"I hope so," je said. "When this building gets going, it's one of the funnest buildings in the league to play in."
Also making a return to the State of Hockey is Eden Prairie native Nick Leddy, the Wild's first round selection in the 2009 Entry Draft.
"What he's giving us offensively and defensively is getting better and better," said Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville. "I don't necessarily measure his contribution numbers-wise. When he's playing (well), he's giving us that offense."
ST. PAUL, Minn. -- With realignment on the horizon, tonight's battle between the Minnesota Wild and Chicago Blackhawks (7:30 p.m. ET, Versus) should be the start of a heated divisional rivalry starting as soon as next season.
This time around, however, it will settle midseason Western Conference supremacy, as the top two teams in the conference meet for the first time this season, here at the Xcel Energy Center.
The Blackhawks trail the Wild by three points in the standings. After this game, the Hawks will play six of their next seven at home to close the 2011 portion of their schedule.
The Wild return to downtown St. Paul for the first time in 12 days after a successful five-game road trip that saw them go 4-1-0.
Also returning could be a few key elements to the roster.
Coach Mike Yeo said defenseman Marek Zidlicky -- absent since Nov. 15 with a concussion -- could return to the lineup tonight. The puck-moving blueliner has 6 assists in 18 games this season.
Who sits if Zidlicky comes back is a question Yeo said the Wild coaching staff will toss around today.
"That's the tricky thing," Yeo said. "We have to get Zids back into the lineup. We have to get his game going. I felt like he was starting to come along before he got hurt."
Forward Matt Cullen also could return tonight after missing Tuesday's game in Winnipeg after falling ill earlier in the day. Yeo said he was feeling better but would be a game-time decision.
Also not to be decided until game-time will be the status of forward Pierre-Marc Bouchard, who was injured late in Tuesday's game after being checked from behind head-first into the boards. Bouchard, who missed all but one game in 2009-10 with a concussion, left the game with blood pouring out of his nose. He was one of only a couple of Wild players to skate this morning and appeared to have stitches on the bridge of his nose.
Wild forward Guillaume Latendresse returned to the lineup Tuesday in Winnipeg after missing 15 games with a concussion. He scored Minnesota's only goal in a 2-1 loss to the Jets, but also will be a game-time decision depending on how he feels after his first game back. He only practiced with the team once before making his return.
The Wild do have forward Warren Peters available because of the line-up uncertainty.
"We don't know what our lineup is yet, to be honest," Yeo said.
That uncertainty even extends to the net, where Niklas Backstrom will start -- if he's up to it. Backstrom missed three games with a groin injury earlier this month, but has played the last two games, including a 25-save effort Tuesday. Yeo hadn't talked to Backstrom to find out how he felt, but if he can't go, Matt Hackett would earn the start. Yeo said the team is in no rush to bring back an injured Josh Harding.
I kept refreshing the page on the NHL website after the second round and I was shocked he lasted that long. I'm sure the Coyotes were pretty happy to get him. He's such a good player and he plays big in big games.
— Arizona Coyotes forward Henrik Samuelsson on prospect Edgars Kulda being draftedd