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Ballard returns to lineup for Wild in Game 3

Tuesday, 05.06.2014 / 1:58 PM

By Dan Myers - NHL.com Correspondent / Blackhawks-Wild series blog

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Ballard returns to lineup for Wild in Game 3

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."

Chicago leads the best-of-7 series 2-0.

Ballard, a Baudette, Minn., native who signed a two-year, $3 million contract with the Wild last summer after he was bought out by the Vancouver Canucks, has played through injuries in his first season. He sustained a concussion in the sixth game when a puck hit him in the face. After sitting out seven games, Ballard returned to the lineup but broke several ribs in his third game back, which put him in the press box for nine more games.

At the time of his rib injury, Ballard had four assists and was a plus-6 in nine games playing 16-17 minutes a night. After his return, Ballard played in 17 consecutive games. He had one assist and was a minus-12 over that span, and was a healthy scratch for the first time this season Jan. 2 against the Buffalo Sabres after posting a minus rating in five straight games.

Ballard finished the season with two goals and seven assists and was a minus-7. He said he grew frustrated with the pace of his comeback from his latest injury.

"As it went on, it was just hit and miss," Ballard said. "Two good days, couple bad ones, start over. The couple good days, I had a couple of times I was real close. Unfortunately, I couldn't feel good enough to get through the next practice or to play in a game."

Ballard is expected to skate on the right side of the Wild's third defensive pairing alongside Clayton Stoner. Ballard has 14 games of Stanley Cup Playoff experience in his runs with the Canucks in 2011 and 2012.

"We've been able to get pucks to our wingers on the wall, we just haven't been able to make that next play coming out of the defensive zone," Wild coach Mike Yeo said. "That's where a guy with the skating ability of [Ballard], supporting the play, we've gotta use our defensemen."

Other lineup changes for the Wild include moving forward Nino Niederreiter up to the second line with center Mikko Koivu and right wing Charlie Coyle. That slots Matt Moulson on the left side of center Erik Haula and right wing Justin Fontaine on the third line.

Moulson has one goal and one assist in nine playoff games, but has been blanked against the Blackhawks and has been a minus-1 each game. Yeo said he hopes reuniting with Fontaine, who had chemistry with Moulson in limited playing time together down the stretch, can get him going.

"The speed of Haula in the middle of the ice should help those guys," Yeo said. "Hopefully, even mentally, to have the opportunity to just relax and play the game and concentrate on going out and doing the things he needs to do."

Here are the projected lineups:

WILD

Zach Parise - Mikael Granlund - Jason Pominville

Nino Niederreiter - Mikko Koivu - Charlie Coyle

Matt Moulson - Erik Haula - Justin Fontaine

Dany Heatley - Kyle Brodziak - Cody McCormick

Ryan Suter - Jonas Brodin

Marco Scandella - Jared Spurgeon

Clayton Stoner - Keith Ballard

Ilya Bryzgalov

John Curry

Scratched: Nate Prosser, Jonathon Blum, Stephane Veilleux, Mike Rupp, Carson McMillan, Jake Dowell

Injured: Jason Zucker (quad), Josh Harding (illness), Niklas Backstrom (abdominal surgery), Darcy Kuemper (upper body)

Suspended: Matt Cooke (eligible to return in Game 4)

BLACKHAWKS

Patrick Sharp - Ben Smith - Patrick Kane

Bryan Bickell - Jonathan Toews - Marian Hossa

Brandon Saad - Marcus Kruger - Joakim Nordstrom

Kris Versteeg/Brandon Bollig - Michal Handzus - Jeremy Morin

Duncan Keith - Brent Seabrook

Niklas Hjalmarsson - Johnny Oduya

Nick Leddy - Michal Rozsival

Corey Crawford

Antti Raanta

Scratched: Sheldon Brookbank, Peter Regin, David Rundblad, Klas Dahlbeck

Injured: Andrew Shaw (lower body)

Quote of the Day

We've got a team filled with captains, that's what I think. With these first two games we got in, we're really dominating and moving the puck really fast, and it's worked out really good.

— U.S. goalie Brandon Halverson after a 6-0 win against Germany in the World Junior Championship on Sunday