The saying goes, keep your friends close, and your enemies closer.
On Thursday, an old friend will be turned into a foe when the Minnesota Wild hosts the Calgary Flames, looking for its fourth consecutive victory and a big two points heading into the weekend.
Former Wild goaltender Niklas Backstrom is expected to start for Calgary. A Wild win in any fashion would see it maintain the second wild card spot into the 2016 Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Minnesota sits one point ahead of the Colorado Avalanche, who has played one fewer game than the Wild. Colorado plays the Philadelphia Flyers on Thursday.
If the Wild can earn two points against the Flames and Backstrom, a goalie who spent the first decade of his NHL career in Minnesota re-writing the Wild's record books, it will be guaranteed to stay on top of Colorado, heading into a crucial showdown between the Central Division rivals at Pepsi Center on Saturday.
"Tonight's game is all we're worried about; nothing else," interim Head Coach John Torchetti said. "All we're worried about is the Flames."
If that's how things play out, the Wild and Avalanche would face off for a final time in the regular season giving Minnesota a chance to create some breathing room without the added-luxury of having played more games.
But first things first is Backstrom and the Flames.
"We're not talking about Saturday yet," Parise said. "We have a big game ahead of us now."
Parise, who did not practice on Wednesday, along with goaltender Devan Dubnyk, said he was fine and good to go against Calgary. Dubnyk also was a participant in morning skate after a maintenance day and is expected make his seventh consecutive start for Minnesota.
"Everyone is fighting through stuff this time of year, so you just deal with it," Parise said.
The Wild might also get some additional help against the Flames, with the possible return forward Jason Pominville, who has missed the past seven games with a lower-body injury.
"We'll see how he is after skate, then let him have a skate tonight, too," Torchetti said.
Pominville took morning skate a day after participating in his first full practice since sustaining his injury.
If he does return, he's expected to play on a line with Erik Haula and Nino Niederreiter. It's a spot Pominvile previously occupied beginning when Torchetti took over Feb. 13.
Two days later, in the Wild's first game under Torchetti, the lines were shuffled, with Pominville, Haula, and Niederreiter a trio. In the 12 games it played prior to Pominville's injury, the line combined for 14 goals and 31 points.
"[Haula] plays below the puck, and then he uses his speed a whole lot more," Torchetti said. " Niederreiter does a great job with his puck possession, and using behind the net on offensive-zone cycles. Pominville has done a good job there with him to get him ignited."
Here is the Wild's projected lineup:
Zach Parise – Mikko Koivu – Charlie Coyle
Thomas Vanek – Mikael Granlund – David Jones
Nino Niederreiter – Erik Haula – Jason Pominville
Jordan Schroeder – Jarret Stoll – Justin Fontaine
Ryan Suter – Jared Spurgeon
Marco Scandella – Jonas Brodin
Mike Reilly – Matt Dumba