Wild hosts the Carolina Hurricanes tonight.
If the Wild wins its final home game, it’ll be its 27th, second-most in team history. The Wild, which has 100 points, needs five points in its final three games to have the best season in franchise history (104). A Wild win or Blues regulation loss to Winnipeg clinches home-ice advantage in the first round, as does overtime/shootout losses by the Wild and Blues. The Canes are 9-2-4 in their past 15.
Plenty of reasons to arrive early.
Former Minnesota North Stars Don Beaupre, Neal Broten, Jack Carlson and Brad Maxwell are scheduled to sign autographs from 6-7 p.m. on the main concourse at section 123 and Wild players, in recognition of the NHL first coming to Minnesota 50 seasons ago, will wear 1967 replica North Stars jerseys during warmups.
Those jerseys will either be giveaways during the game or will be auctioned away online.
“A couple of months ago, I saw a picture of the jerseys,” said Zach Parise, whose late father, J.P., played for the North Stars. “I think it’s going to be cool. There’s a lot of fans in the building tonight that, they loved watching the North Stars just like I did. I think it’s great for us to kind of pay tribute to those guys. It’s going to be really neat, I wish we could wear them for the game.”
Coach Bruce Boudreau’s best memories of the North Stars?
“Yeah, I scored a hat trick against them one night. Didn’t even get No. 1 star. Still ticks me off,” he quipped of a Dec. 16, 1977, 8-5 Leafs win over the North Stars. “But it was John Anderson’s first NHL goal too, and Trevor Johansen opening night. So it was all good, but a guy named [Borje] Salming got five assists or something and got first star.”
Also, the Minnesota Wild Foundation will also be selling jersey rally towels celebrating Eric Staal’s 1,000th NHL game at section 104. $10 each.
Staal, who played his 1,000th game last month in Winnipeg, will be showered with gifts tonight from the NHL, the Wild, the Hurricanes and his Wild teammates. His parents, wife, three kids and brother, Jordan, will be part of the ceremony. Hurricanes GM and Hall of Fame center Ron Francis also flew in especially for the ceremony. Francis was Staal’s first roommate at Staal’s first training camp. Staal really looks up to the man who eventually traded him out of Carolina.
“It’s pretty cool,” Staal said of the Wild waiting to honor him so the Hurricanes could be the opponent. “When they approached me to say that’s what they were thinking of doing, I had never really thought about it. I thought it was pretty classy. Obviously, I spent a lot of time there, a majority of games have been there. They do the [silver] stick pass thing, so to be able to do that with them here, and obviously Jordan here, it’ll be pretty special.”
On his family being on the ice, Staal said, “Yeah, it’s going to be interesting. I have a two-year old, so we’ll see how he does. It’ll be fun. They’re excited, they’ve been talking about it for the last little while, my kids, just being out there. They love the vibe of the beginning of the game here. It’s a lot of energy, a lot of excitement, so for them to be right down on ice level, in the mix for that, and enjoy being out on the ice, it’ll be cool for them. Looking forward to it.”
Boudreau said of Staal, “He’s a pro in every sense of the word. He’s everything that I was hoping that he’d be and more. For him today, especially to get honored when Carolina’s in town, that’s a pretty neat thing considering that’s where the bulk of his career was and that’s where his brother plays, and I’m really happy for him.”
Jason Zucker will miss his third game with a lower body injury. Sounds like his issue is groin or abdominal strain. He skated today and Boudreau just doesn’t see any point in having him worsen it by throwing him into game action right now.
Chris Stewart is a healthy scratched tonight, meaning Jordan Schroeder and Ryan White play in the same lineup, likely on either side of Joel Eriksson Ek.
That would mean the other lines are the same as the other night.
Nate Prosser is scratched for Christian Folin again.
Devan Dubnyk starts.
I talked to a bunch of players today about their reaction to the news NHLers won’t be taking part in the 2018 Olympics in South Korea and 2022 Olympics in Beijing. I’ll do a bigger story that will be up soon, but here are a couple sneak peeks.
Remember, Mikko Koivu, who did play in the 2006 and 2010 Olympics, missed his chance to captain Finland in the 2014 Olympics because of an ankle surgery.
“I think it's bigger picture,” Koivu said. “It's not just me individually. I'm not going to be able to go anymore. I think it's the next two that they said we're not taking part of, so that's it for me. It's disappointing news.”
Switzerland’s Nino Niederreiter said, “It’s very disappointing. It’s pretty selfish I would say. To me it doesn’t make sense. They want to have opening [exhibition] games in China and [regular-season games in] Sweden [next year], and then we have a chance to play in the Olympics, which was the biggest stage possible, and they don’t want to go. It just doesn’t add up. It makes no sense. You can’t go to China and have games there and go to Stockholm and have games there, and then have a chance to play in the Olympics and don’t go. It just doesn’t add up.
“It’s just selfish. And has nothing to do with the game anymore.”
As I said, I’ll have a larger reaction story up soon.
Bryan Bickell is playing his first NHL game since being diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in November. He was recalled from the Charlotte Checkers, which coincidentally is where Josh Harding’s career ended after a setback playing for Iowa.
“We didn’t know when this day was going to come, but I’m happy to be here, happy to be in Minnesota,” Bickell said. “I’ve contacted Josh [Harding] this is where he had is so hopefully I see him tonight and cross some paths and talk about some things.”
I texted with Harding and he’s not positive he can come yet because he didn’t know Bickell would be playing.
“Would love to be there to support him and show my respect to him,” Harding said. “It’s a heck of a battle dealing with what he’s dealing with and I respect the heck out of him for batting through that.”
Bickell said, “Definitely the family helped me get through this moment with the goods and the bads and the rough patches here and there. To get some words of wisdom from a guy that’s been through it definitely helped I know a lot of people reached out through these months to know this day was going to come so I’m happy to be here against the Wild, I’ve scored a couple goals against these guys in the past and hopefully I’ll get one tonight.”
Bickell said Harding shared, “Just things that physically he went through, obviously the treatments. … I know with MS you need to keep cool, and that was a big thing for him. He was a goalie. He had to stand up the whole time. I get breaks. I get to sit on the bench. But it’s nice to reach out to him and get some thoughts off of what he’s been through. Hopefully he can be here tonight, and to meet him for the first time, it would be real special.”
Much more on this in Wednesday's paper.
I’ll be on Sirius XM at 2:35 p.m. CT and I’m filling in for Paul Allen from 9-noon tomorrow on KFAN.