NASHVILLE – Mike Yeo plans to go with largely his full playoff lineup during Saturday's nationally televised regular-season finale against the St. Louis Blues.
But clinching a playoff berth Tuesday against the Blackhawks gave the Wild coach a rare luxury Thursday against the Predators. Three top players with "nagging" injuries didn't play, and goaltender Devan Dubnyk was given his first night off with the Wild.
Darcy Kuemper started for the first time since Jan. 6 and Niklas Backstrom backed up.
Yeo joked that Dubnyk, who had started 39 consecutive games (38 with the Wild), was a "healthy scratch. I didn't like that last goal in Chicago."
In all seriousness, Yeo said, "I think a night mentally completely off will be good for him."
Zach Parise, Nino Niederreiter and Thomas Vanek also sat out, Matt Cooke returned after missing 31 games because of a sports hernia, and Sean Bergenheim, scratched in five previous games, played over Erik Haula, who remains in Yeo's doghouse.
Parise, who leads the Wild with 32 goals, called it a "maintenance day" for him.
"There's been a lot of hard games lately. Everyone's, I'm sure, got some bumps and bruises," Parise said. "Of course I want to play. I was fully planning on playing, but in the long run, it's probably better not to right now."
Vanek, who has 21 goals, has been playing through a lower-body injury for a month, and Niederreiter, who has 24 goals, bruised a foot when struck by a Matt Dumba slapshot Monday and was clearly laboring in Chicago.
"When you're not 100 percent, you go into battle differently and skatingwise, sometimes you change your skating and push more off your other leg," Niederreiter said. "As a player, you want to play. But we clinched the playoffs, so this is the safer side and I'll be ready for St. Louis."
Cooke was excited to play for the first time since Feb. 1.
"I feel conditioningwise I'm there," he said. "Game-speed stuff, I don't really have a choice. I've got to go out and play my game and get up to speed as quick as I can."
Yeo said Saturday's lineup might look a lot like the Game 1 postseason lineup (defenseman Nate Prosser will likely draw back in), although Yeo added, "Certain players may be a better fit against certain opponents."
Lay off the goalies
The Wild debated whether Kuemper should start Thursday or Saturday, but Yeo felt the potential of Dubnyk going a week between games (the Wild will open the playoffs Wednesday or Thursday) was too long.
The Wild has a history of goalies getting hurt in St. Louis (Kuemper was concussed last year by David Backes). Asked if there's concern the Blues could take liberties with Dubnyk, especially if the Wild is a potential first-round matchup, Yeo said: "You can't operate like that right now. You can't make decisions based on fear. You've got to make decisions on what's best for the group. … Obviously, I don't think that any team that we're playing is going to want to have suspensions going into the start of the playoffs, either."
Barnes & Cullen?
On Wednesday's "Tonight Show," host Jimmy Fallon gave out his NHL superlatives. Former Wild center Matt Cullen, who plays for the Predators, was the "most likely to stand behind you at a bookstore and say, 'That's a good one …"
Cullen woke up with 100 text messages: "I thought I got traded. Holy cow!"
As expected, Cullen took a lot of heat from teammates, "especially for my Zoolander Blue Steel" mug shot.
"I should start a book club at Barnes & Noble Fargo-Moorhead," he joked.
2013 draftee signed
With Shawinigan eliminated in the Quebec League playoffs, the Wild signed defenseman Dylan Labbe, 20, to a three-year deal.
The 2013 fourth-round pick scored 15 goals and 51 points in 63 games last season. That ranked tied for third among QMJHL defensemen in goals and sixth in scoring. Labbe's contract begins next season, but he reported to AHL Iowa on an amateur tryout.