Good afternoon from the house that Nick Leddy built, the United Center, where the Wild and Blackhawks meet tonight for the first time since Minnesota's opening-round loss to Chicago in last year's playoffs.
The Blackhawks went on to win a little hardware later that summer much to the chagrin of the what-the-heck-just-happened Boston Bruins.
The Wild has won four in a row at home but is 1-3-1 on the road and has scored seven goals in that stretch. It opens a home-and-home series with its new Central Division rivals. In the past 20 meetings including last year’s playoffs, the Wild has won six against the Hawks and only one in regulation. Including last year’s 0-3 playoffs, the Wild has won two of the past 10 visits to Chicago.
Nineteen Wild players took the ice for today's morning skate. The only one who took the optional off? Matt Cooke.
"That's why I went on. I wanted to make him feel uncomfortable," joked coach Mike Yeo.
Asked what he expected now tonight from Cooke, Yeo kidded, "I don't know, but the pressure's on."
The Wild will go with the same lines that were changed during and ended Thursday's game vs. Carolina (changes in CAPS):
Zach Parise-Mikko Koivu-Justin Fontaine
NINO NIEDERREITER-Mikael Granlund-Jason Pominville
Matt Cooke-Kyle Brodziak-DANY HEATLEY
Stephane Veilleux-Zenon Konopka-Torrey Mitchell
Ryan Suter-Jared Spurgeon
Marco Scandella-Nate Prosser
Clayton Stoner-Matt Dumba
That's eight new bodies that didn't play vs. Chicago in the playoffs: Fontaine, Niederreiter, Granlund, Cooke, Prosser, Dumba, Backstrom, Gustafsson. And remember, Stoner got hurt in Game 1, Pominville missed the first three games and Veilleux only played two.
"I haven't seen them a ton this year, but ... they seem like they're moving well, they look like they're checking well as a team, they look like they're attacking well as a group. They look like they're improved," Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville said.
Brad Mills and Jeremy Morin will make their season debuts for Chicago. Michal Handzus is out with an upper-body injury and Ben Smith is scratched.
Mills has played 31 games previously for the Devils and nearly signed a PTO last year to play for the Wild's Houston Aeros (now defunct).
Charlie Coyle, Jonas Brodin, Josh Harding, Keith Ballard and Mike Rupp aren't here for the Wild. Coyle, Rupp and Ballard should practice in Minnesota tomorrow, while it's uncertain yet if Brodin and Harding will. The Wild will take the next big step in Rupp's hopeful eventual return to the ice from offseason knee surgery next week when he's put through the gauntlet. He'll get more practice reps and be tortured after practice, Yeo quipped. I'll have more on Rupp in Sunday's Star Tribune.
I also chatted with Leddy, who in case you didn't know was once drafted by the Wild in the first round and is the next Bobby Orr in the minds of many Wild fanatics. His mom, Vicki, just went on her first-ever mother-son trip and Leddy had some cool things to say. The Wild had a mother-son trip once and it was definitely a hoot.
Also, real cool story, but 18 kids from the Minnesota Special Hockey Association (the Wildcats) were brought to town by the Denis Savard Foundation. The kids, their parents and volunteers attended today's Wild and Blackhawks skates and now are going to play the Chicago Tomahawks. Savard's Foundation picked up the whole tab for 56 people. Pretty special scene down at the skate as the children watched their favorite Wild players skate. I'll have more on that in Sunday's notebook as well.
Talk to you after the game.