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:
Suspended: Matt Cooke (eligible to return in Game 4)
Injured: Andrew Shaw (lower body)