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Fresh off shutout, Bryzgalov back in net for Wild

by Tal Pinchevsky

NEWARK, N.J. -- Goaltender Ilya Bryzgalov will start in consecutive games for the first time since being traded to the Minnesota Wild on March 4.

Bryzgalov, who started his NHL season late after agreeing to a one-year contract with the Edmonton Oilers on Nov. 8, will get the start Thursday against the New Jersey Devils after stopping 36 shots in a 6-0 shutout of the New York Islanders on Tuesday.

"That's kind of our guideline. When a goalie has a shutout we like to come back with him," Wild coach Mike Yeo said after practice. "I just thought he was very good in that game, especially early in the game. All game long he had a very calming presence in the net and he looked big. We want to give him a chance to get back at it and see if he can continue that."

After having his contract bought out by the Philadelphia Flyers in June, Bryzgalov signed a professional tryout agreement with the Las Vegas Wranglers of the ECHL on Oct. 3 but never played for the team. He appeared to be relegated to backup duty after arriving in Minnesota, with Darcy Kuemper starting 20 of the Wild's previous 21 games before getting a break against the Islanders. The 23-year-old posted an 11-4-4 record in those games.

But Bryzgalov has been lauded for his veteran presence since coming to Minnesota, providing stability to a team that has lost Niklas Backstrom for the season with an abdominal injury and is missing Josh Harding indefinitely as he continues to receive treatment for multiple sclerosis.

"Just the presence in the locker room. A really nice guy," defenseman Ryan Suter said of Bryzgalov. "He's that veteran presence, he's won before. It's fun having him around."

Though the Wild will get older in the crease Thursday with the 33-year-old Bryzgalov, the rest of the team is looking younger. Defenseman Keith Ballard remains out with a lower-body injury, giving Clayton Stoner more of an opportunity to develop on the Wild blue line. Stoner scored a pretty goal on a breakaway against the Islanders for his first of the season and has earned praise from his coach.

"His play has been very strong lately. He's been making the right decisions with the puck, he's been moving the puck quickly and efficiently," Yeo said. "He's not going to make a home-run play every time but he's going to make the right play. I've been very impressed by how he's been playing."

Yeo seems similarly impressed with 26-year-old rookie Justin Fontaine, who flourished Tuesday on the second line with captain Mikko Koivu and forward Matt Moulson after being a healthy scratch for five straight games. Against the Islanders, Fontaine had a goal and an assist alongside his new linemates.

"He's very smart, very good with the puck. You can trust him everywhere on the ice," Koivu said of Fontaine. "He tries to find an open spot and his patience with the puck is very good. He sat out for a couple of games; it's not easy to jump in. The way he did was very good."

Here is the Wild's projected lineup:

Zach Parise - Mikael Granlund - Jason Pominville

Matt Moulson - Mikko Koivu - Justin Fontaine

Dany Heatley - Charlie Coyle - Nino Niederreiter

Matt Cooke - Kyle Brodziak - Cody McCormick

Ryan Suter - Jared Spurgeon

Marco Scandella - Jonas Brodin

Clayton Stoner - Nate Prosser

Ilya Bryzgalov

Darcy Kuemper

Scratched: Mike Rupp, Erik Haula

Injured: Niklas Backstrom (abdominal), Josh Harding (illness), Keith Ballard (lower body), Jason Zucker (knee)

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