TAMPA BAY – Forward Zach Parise practiced in full with the Minnesota Wild in Tampa Bay, and could play on Saturday when the Wild faces the Lightning at Amalie Arena.
Parise missed the Wild's 3-1 win against the St. Louis Blues on Thursday with a knee injury. He left practice early last Sunday, before playing on Monday, and not practicing on Tuesday and Wednesday.
"I'm not sure; I don't know yet (if I'll play tomorrow)," he said. "I'll see how it feels tonight and the rest of the day, and tomorrow in the morning, and I guess judge from there."
Parise missed eight games earlier this season with a sprained MCL. Though he said he felt great in the 10 games after returning from that injury, both he and Head Coach Mike Yeo said a major point of emphasis is making sure he gets the requisite rest so this issue does not linger.
"That's what I'm trying to avoid, and that's the biggest thing," Parise said. "I don't want to be dealing with it going into February, and March, and April, so that's the hard part right now. I'm trying to manage it."
If he does return, it will leave Yeo with a difficult decision as to which forward will come out of the lineup following one of the Wild's stronger performances on New Year's Eve in St. Louis.
"We put it off until tomorrow," Yeo said. " We bounced a bunch of different scenarios around today, and until we know if he's going to play or not, it's just best that we kind of put it off until tomorrow."
That included a goal and an assist from Erik Haula, who had recently been a healthy scratch for three games, and an assist for Justin Fontaine, returning one game after being a healthy scratch.
Haula did not practice on Friday in Tampa Bay, but Yeo said he was just sore and should be good to play on Friday. Yeo did say that if Parise does return, "there is a very good chance" that Haula and Fontaine's line with Nino Niederreiter would be tweaked.
No matter who is in the lineup, the Wild is attempting to string together what Yeo said could turn into a great road trip after the win on Thursday in St. Louis.
"We just have to make sure that we go into Tampa Bay, we know what we're expecting, and we have to make sure we're prepared for them," Yeo said. "Obviously they didn't stumble their way to the Stanley Cup Final by accident, so this will be a good challenge."
Though Yeo said each game presents a different challenge, and the Wild will need to win different types of games, he did say the Wild's five-on-five defense has been a strength of late.
"That has to be a staple of our game," Yeo said. "For us that's who we are, that's part of our identity, and we have to be a team that's tough to generate offense against, and we have to be a team that plays well in structure."
Goalie Devan Dubnyk has a not allowed a five-on-five goal in 161:50, and the Wild has allowed 17 five-on-five goals since the beginning of December over 14 games. The stretch has seen Minnesota jump to the top spot in the NHL, allowing a league-low 1.44 five-on-five goals against per game.
"It's one thing that we did it last game, and now we have to make sure that we put that behind us and get ready for the next challenge tomorrow," Yeo said.