CALGARY, ALBERTA -- Matt Cullen didn’t suit up against the Calgary Flames wearing Superman’s cape. But there was a distinct sense of optimism inside the Wild’s dressing room when players learned Monday morning that they would be welcoming back the valued center.
After missing six games because of a lower-body injury that typically takes three or four weeks to heal, Cullen returned after two. While he was medically cleared and felt good, there was little doubt Cullen was rushing back because of the Wild’s desperate situation.
The Wild had lost seven of nine (2-6-1) before Monday’s 4-3 victory and had gone 1-4-1, including three shutout losses, without Cullen.
“It’s been awfully tough watching, and it will be nice to get back in the fight with the guys,” Cullen said before the game, in which he had an assist. “If there’s a side benefit to [my time off], it’s a pretty good stretch of rest to be rejuvenated here. ... We’ve gone through a tough stretch of games. We have seven left here and we have to win a bunch.”
Coach Mike Yeo was hoping Cullen’s return would help reignite struggling Devin Setoguchi. But he also hoped that the increased threat of secondary scoring would made it harder for opponents to solely focus on shutting down first-liners Zach Parise and Mikko Koivu.
“He was playing so well before he got hurt,” Parise said of Cullen. “Really, that line with him and Setoguchi was playing unreal before he got hurt. That was a big part of us winning games and scoring a lot of goals, so for us to be getting him back, it’ll be big for those guys and it’ll be big for our team.”
Cullen centered Jason Zucker and Setoguchi, while Mikael Granlund was scratched.
Hanowski scores in his NHL debut
Unlike his St. Cloud State teammates, Ben Hanowski had yet to cut his long, unkempt-looking hair Monday morning from a charitable endeavor the Huskies conducted through their run to the Frozen Four for Locks of Love.
The freshly anointed Flames forward already was being ribbed for it by his new teammates.
“I was doing my sticks and Jiri Hudler gave me a pair of scissors and said it was not for my tape,” Hanowski said, laughing.
The Little Falls, Minn., native, acquired last month from the Pittsburgh Penguins in the Jarome Iginla trade, made his NHL debut on Monday night against his homestate Wild and scored his first career goal in the third period.
“It adds a little cherry on top getting in your first game against the team you grew up cheering for,” said Hanowski, 22. “Playing Minnesota makes it that much sweeter than it was anyways.”
Hanowski, who was supposed to be in St. Cloud taking financial institutions and insurance exams Monday and Tuesday, instead began his pro career.
“I enjoyed my four years at St. Cloud,” he said. “It was a great four years, but I’m excited to start my new journey.”
Hanowski knows for the rest of his career, he will be linked to Iginla, the former Flames captain and icon.
“But I’m just going to be myself and be the player I can be,” Hanowski said.
• Goaltender Josh Harding was scheduled to fly to Houston on Monday to begin a conditioning stint with the AHL’s Aeros that can last through Sunday. Harding, who has been sidelined since Feb. 12 because of side effects he had from medication used to treat multiple sclerosis, is expected to play two of the Aeros’ final three regular-season games this weekend.
• The Wild also assigned 2012 first-round draft pick Matt Dumba to the Aeros. Dumba’s Red Deer Rebels were eliminated from the Western Hockey League playoffs last week. The 18-year-old defenseman scored 16 goals and 42 points in 62 games for Red Deer last season.
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