The Minnesota Wild’s final road trip of the season is filled with more villainy than a James Bond film. The club will face three of its Central Division rivals, starting tonight against the Chicago Blackhawks, following it up against the Nashville Predators on Thursday, before closing against the St. Louis Blues on Saturday.
Though the road to the Stanley Cup Playoffs is difficult, the Wild is ready for the task, especially after sustaining a 2-0 loss at Xcel Energy Center against the Winnipeg Jets last night. The club had a chance to clinch a berth in the postseason yesterday, but will continue to push forward with only a trio of games left on the docket.
“There really is no easy way. We played a very desperate, a very good hockey team last night. We lost a hockey game; that happens,” Wild Head Coach Mike Yeo said. “I know when we woke up this morning, there was still a bitter taste in our mouths, but the bottom line is, we’re still in a better position than most teams. We’ve got three hard games coming up, but we’ve been a real good team over this last little stretch so we just have to make sure we’re ready each game to assert ourselves.”
The bench boss was secretive as a OO Agent about any lineup changes tonight against Chicago only saying, “We’re contemplating a few but there’s nothing set in stone right now; we’ll keep you guys in the dark on that one.”
Yeo did leave one breadcrumb; he expects Nino Niederreiter to be available for tonight’s game against the Hawks. The forward left midway through the third period of last night’s 2-0 loss to the Winnipeg Jets after taking a Matt Dumba slap shot to the foot. Niederreiter did not return to the game.
“I think he’s going to be fine,” Yeo said. “He’s going to go on the ice this morning just to make sure, but there’s no breaks, just a bit of a bruise.
“I’m expecting him to play. There’s no damage there.”
As far as players returning from injury, Yeo kept it in the vault. He said there’s a “possibility” that Jason Zucker will be in tonight and that Matt Cooke is “getting close.” However, he was uncommitted as the media tried to pry info like a counter spy.
“We’ve got some lineup decisions to make for tonight, but we’ve got a lot of guys are our disposal and obviously everybody brings something different to the table,” Yeo said. “Zuck, obviously his speed and the season he’s been having, we’ve very hopeful that he can come in and get up to speed in a real hurry, and has the ability to play in different roles. Cookie is a veteran guy who is a big part of our penalty kill and just a type of guy who is real effective in his role, especially this time of year.”
Zucker has been out for two months, recovering from surgery to repair a broken clavicle. The forward isn’t sure when he’ll be called to duty, but he’s primed to help his team.
“If that happens then, yeah, I’ll be ready but I haven’t heard anything yet,” Zucker said. “This is a hard time of year to be playing — it’s definitely a fun time of year as well. I’ve obviously been out awhile but I just want to get back in there. If it’s tonight or Thursday, it’s just keeping it simple, just doing the little things.”
The wing said he felt nearly 100 percent after only three weeks, as far as shooting and stickhandling, but it was still a long road before he was ready for contact. The 23-year-old doesn’t want to reinjure himself or suffer a setback, but it’s difficult to stay on the sidelines with the team playing such meaningful hockey.
“You don’t want to rush back and risk hurting yourself again, and then being out another eight to ten weeks again. That’s a road you don’t want to go down,” Zucker said. “But obviously everybody wants to be out there helping their team, being in this playoff push.”
If you’re into espionage and intrigue in attempting to figure out the lineup, there were a number of Wild skaters who stayed on the ice for an in-zone scrimmage with the goaltenders Darcy Kuemper and Niklas Backstrom. Cooke, Sean Bergenheim, Ryan Carter, Christian Folin and Nate Prosser all stayed out for extra work.
Here are your obligatory playoff berth scenarios for the Wild:
The Wild would clinch a playoff berth if it defeats the Blackhawks in regulation OR if it wins in a shootout AND any of the following occurs: the Flames fail to win in regulation or overtime; the Jets lose in any fashion; or the Kings lose in any fashion.
The Wild also would clinch a playoff berth if it loses to the Blackhawks in overtime or a shootout AND any of the following occurs: the Kings lose in regulation; the Kings lose in overtime or a shootout AND the Jets lose in regulation; both the Flames and Kings lose in any fashion; or the Flames lose in any fashion AND the Jets lose in regulation.
If the Wild lose to the Blackhawks in regulation, it would clinch a playoff berth if both the Flames and Kings lose in regulation.