For the first time in a long, long time, the Lighthouse took a stroll outside on its way to Xcel Energy Center for the Minnesota Wild’s morning skate. Yes, it seems spring is finally in the air (fingers crossed) and the Wild looks to warm up from its recent cold stretch, tonight hosting the New York Rangers.
The warmer weather is Mother Nature’s sign the National Hockey League’s playoffs are just around the corner. While the Wild has earned a shootout point in consecutive games (vs. St. Louis on Sunday and Edmonton on Tuesday), the club is in a battle for the two Wild Card spots. Currently, Minnesota is in the seventh spot in the Western Conference, three points ahead of Dallas and four up on Phoenix, and would like to create a little breathing room ahead of the challengers.
Tonight’s opponent is a tough Eastern Conference club that has done well against the Central Division this season. The Rangers are 7-4-0 against the Central, including a 4-1 win against the Wild on Dec. 22 at Madison Square Garden. New York Head Coach Alain Vigneault said Cam Talbot will get the start in goal. Talbot was in net during the Wild and Ranger’s first go-round.
“It’s going to be a tough game,” Wild Head Coach Mike Yeo said. “This is a team that we have to expect pressure tonight. We have to expect them to be in our face. We have to be prepared to move the puck quickly and prepared to make quick decisions.”
Against the Rangers, Minnesota will go with goaltender Darcy Kuemper and the same forwards as the team’s last contest. The only lineup change from Tuesday’s game will be on the blue line: Clayton Stoner is in for Nate Prosser. Stoner will be paired with Keith Ballard. Minnesota has been rotating Stoner, Prosser and Ballard, and Yeo believes they’ve all earned the right to play.
“I don’t think any (of the defensemen) deserves to come out of the lineup and stay out of the lineup,” Yeo said. “We have to go by more than just one game sample size, that’s the way we always do it here.”
“Those guys played really good hockey for us for a long time.”
The Wild’s top pair, Ryan Suter and Jared Spurgeon, has been the defensive anchor of late. Against Edmonton, Spurgeon set a career high for time on ice (30:40 TOI) and Suter logged 34:12. However, Yeo said that he expects to pull the reigns back on his workhorses.
“We’ve got a lot of games coming up here and we’ve got to make sure we’re monitoring that,” Yeo said. “Sutes is accustomed to playing big minutes, I think last game was still a lot for him. Spurge generally is not going to play 30 mintues a night.
Harding on Ice
Along with the weather outside, there was a bright spot at Xcel Energy Center this morning, as goaltender Josh Harding was out on the ice. While it is a promising development and the Wild is hoping for the best, Yeo said that it will still be some time before Harding makes his return to the lineup.
“It’s a great sign that he’s feeling much better and he’s focused and motivated to try to get back to us,” Yeo said. “We’re still a few steps away, it’s not like he’s a week away from rejoining us, but it’s a good first step.”
The first 2,500 fans to bring a non-perishable food item to the game will be rewarded with a commemorative Wild poster. Even if you don’t plan on being one of the first through the gates, you should bring a donation because it benefits the Second Harvest Food Bank.
Tonight also is the last chance for fans to collect a Wild Bobblehead, the fifth in the series. The first 5,000 fans will receive a Zach Parise bobblehead.