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Ballard returns for Wild, Kuemper to serve as backup

by Dan Myers

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."

Ballard said Bollig had not reached out to him after the hit and did not expect him to.

"Too much gets made of the whole, 'Did he text you?' I don't [care]," Ballard said. "I honestly don't. It's fine. That's what happens. I've hit guys and they've been injured. I don't think it was overly malicious. It was probably a dumb play. That stuff doesn't really matter to me. It's part of the game."

It's been an injury-riddled season for Ballard, his first in Minnesota. He returned to play in Game 3 of this series, his first game in nearly two months after he rehabbed a groin injury. He's also missed time with broken ribs and the concussion.

Ballard was on the ice for both Chicago goals in Game 4, and has 16 games of Stanley Cup Playoff experience. He will play in place of Nate Prosser, on the right side of the third defensive pairing next to Clayton Stoner.

Wild forward Matt Moulson returned to the ice with teammates for the morning skate but will not play in Game 6. If Minnesota forces a Game 7 on Thursday, Wild coach Mike Yeo said he could play then.

"He's close, I just thought it was important for him to have a good skate today," Yeo said. "Hopefully we can take care of business and make a decision based on the next game."

The Wild also got good news on goaltender Darcy Kuemper, who sustained an upper-body injury in the third period of Game 7 in the first round against the Colorado Avalanche. After days of skating on his own, Kuemper joined the Wild for the morning skate Tuesday and will serve as Ilya Bryzgalov's backup for Game 6.

Defenseman Ryan Suter was not on the ice for the morning skate, but it wasn't a veteran option or a maintenance day that kept him away.

"He is at the dentist," Yeo said. "A scheduled cleaning."

Suter is expected to play in Game 6.

Here are the projected lineups:


Zach Parise - Mikael Granlund - Jason Pominville

Nino Niederreiter - Mikko Koivu - Charlie Coyle

Matt Cooke - Erik Haula - Justin Fontaine

Dany Heatley - Kyle Brodziak - Cody McCormick

Ryan Suter - Jonas Brodin

Marco Scandella - Jared Spurgeon

Clayton Stoner - Keith Ballard

Ilya Bryzgalov

Darcy Kuemper

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

Injured: Matt Moulson (lower body), Jason Zucker (quad), Josh Harding (illness), Niklas Backstrom (abdominal)


Patrick SharpJonathan ToewsMarian Hossa

Brandon SaadMichal HandzusPatrick Kane

Bryan BickellPeter ReginKris Versteeg

Joakim NordstromMarcus KrugerBen Smith

Duncan KeithBrent Seabrook

Niklas HjalmarssonJohnny Oduya

Nick LeddySheldon Brookbank

Corey Crawford

Antti Raanta

Suspended: Brandon Bollig

Scratched: Jeremy Morin, Michal Rozsival, David Rundblad

Injured: Andrew Shaw (lower body)

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