It may be a struggle to think about hockey on such a beautiful day—with the sun blazing, kissing your skin and bringing some life to those winter-weary bones—but alas, it’s game day.
The Wild hosts the Blues tonight in their fifth and final meeting of the season. St. Louis has owned the matchup this year, with a 4-0-0 record against Minnesota. Their last meeting took place only 14 days ago with the Blues handing the Wild, what it termed, an embarrassing 5-1 loss.
Though that loss did seem to spark the Wild as it’s gone on a 5-0-1 run since, earning a playoff berth and the first Wild Card spot.
“I don’t want to say that I don’t care about St. Louis, but we’ve been successful lately because we’ve been focusing on ourselves,” Wild Head Coach Mike Yeo said. “It doesn’t matter if we’ve gone into LA or Winnipeg or been back home against Pittsburgh or Boston. We’re concentrating on ourselves, what our game is and that shouldn’t look differently if we’re playing St. Louis or compared to Winnipeg.”
Tonight, the Wild will start its fifth netminder of the season, John Curry. The Shorewood, Minn., native has four career NHL games under his belt, all with Pittsburgh from 2008-10. Tonight will be his first appearance since Jan. 16, 2010. His effort will give netminder Ilya Bryzgalov a rest after starting six-straight games.
“He’s a battler,” Yeo said of Curry. “He’s a gamer. From what I’ve seen of him in the past and what I know of him, he’s a kind of guy that finds a way to elevate his game. … He brings a lot of that attitude out on the ice with him.”
Re-entering the lineup tonight are forwards Mike Rupp and Dany Heatley—Justin Fontaine and Stephane Veilleux will be healthy scratches. Tonight will mark Rupp’s first game since Feb. 1 against Calgary. Yeo said that he doesn’t “expect miracles” from Rupp tonight after being a healthy scratch for so long, but he does anticipate the forward will be fine given that he’s a veteran and knows his game.
With a playoff spot clinched, Yeo said that instead of sitting some of the guys who play heavier minutes, Minnesota wants to keep its game going and make sure it’s ready for what awaits next week.
“We wanted to make the playoffs, but we wanted to make sure our game was ready,” Yeo said. “With those guys and with our team, just because we made the playoffs [Tuesday] doesn’t mean we’re satisfied and we’re happy. This is about making sure that we continue to stay ready and sharp for game one of the post season. That’s our goal.”
The bigger storyline tonight will be the debut of Christian Folin on the blue line. The Wild signed Folin as Free Agent out of UMass Lowell on March 31. He’ll step in and give Jared Spurgeon a much-deserved night off.
“We’ll give him an opportunity to come in and test the waters, see where he’s at,” Yeo said. “It’s a chance for him to really show us what he can do. Part of that is earning it. He’ll get more opportunity as the game goes on, if he’s playing well.”
Folin will get to see some time on the second power play unit, but it remains to see how much time he’ll earn there. The young blueliner said he’s excited about the opportunity tonight and can’t wait for the game to start.
“It’s been a lot of fun just being around the team,” Folin said. “Just trying to learn from all the guys and trying to soak everything in, try to learn as much as you can every day. I’m glad I get the chance to play tonight.”
During his time with the Wild so far, Folin said he’s been keeping an eye on how some of the older guys go about their day-to-day business, noting the hard work they put in every day.
When asked about taking his first shift, Folin didn’t shy away, admitting he’ll have a big smile on his face as his NHL aspirations are finally realized.
Fan Celebration Week
Tonight marks the second night of Fan Celebrations week. All fans will receive a scratch-and-win card tonight. All lower level tickets will enjoy all-you-can-eat and $3 beers and there's a pre-game Chalk Talk with Wes Walz — all part of Fans Night Out. Also, fans can purchase an RBC Wealth Management Club Level ticket and get a $15 concession credit. Go here for full details on all of tonight's festivities.