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Granlund, Kuemper return to practice for Wild

by Dan Myers

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."

Wild coach Mike Yeo was less coy about Granlund's potential involvement in this Western Conference First Round series, which looked like it might be in doubt as recently as the middle of last week.

"Obviously, we want to get him in the lineup," Yeo said. "He wanted to get in the lineup against [the Nashville Predators on Sunday], but we didn't let that happen. We knew we'd have a couple of quality practices here and we don't want to get too far ahead of ourselves, but he looks good and feels good."

Granlund has been one of Minnesota's most creative playmakers. Despite missing 19 games with injuries, Granlund's 33 assists are third-most on the Wild. His chemistry with right wing Jason Pominville, who leads the team with 30 goals, provides the Wild with a solid second scoring line.

"To see him back on the ice, wearing the same color jersey as everyone else and being able to do the drills, it was nice to have him back there," Pominville said. "He's obviously a big part of the team, and anytime you can have him in the lineup, it's going to help our team."

Kuemper started 11 of the first 12 games after the Olympic break and was 12-8-4 with a 2.43 goals-against average and .915 save percentage this season. Goalie Ilya Bryzgalov will start Game 1 for the Wild, but Kuemper's presence as the No. 2 gives them an extra bit of insurance. Last season, No. 1 goalie Niklas Backstrom was lost for the playoffs to an injury sustained during warm-ups before Game 1 against the Chicago Blackhawks.

"I'll be there for the team if they need me," Kuemper said.

Yeo said, "Crazier things have happened, look at that the playoffs last year. I don't want to get too far ahead of ourselves here. Today was just a first step, we'll see how tomorrow goes."

The Wild will fly to Denver on Wednesday morning and practice at Denver University early Wednesday afternoon.

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