Michael Russo has covered the National Hockey League since 1995. He has covered the Minnesota Wild for the Star Tribune since 2005, after 10 years of covering the Florida Panthers for the Sun-Sentinel. He uses “Russo’s Rants” to feed a wide-ranging hockey-centric discussion with readers, and can be heard weekly on KFAN (100.3 FM) radio and seen weekly on Fox Sports North.

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Backstrom will start tonight against Phoenix

Posted by: under Wild pregame skate Updated: February 10, 2010 - 11:44 AM

By Brian Stensaas

Hello from the Xcel Energy Center pressbox. Current population: 1.

I have to make this quick because some Coyotes players are already on the ice for their morning skate, and I have to get down there to talk with a few guys afterward. Don't want to miss them.  I may end up not using it, but the last thing I want is to be late. Nothing worse.

OK - as for the Wild, it's another day of big announcements to no one's surprise. As we expected, coach Todd Richards said goalie Niklas Backstreom will come off IR and start tonight against Phoenix. Anton Khudobin will back him up. Josh Harding will not be in uniform, but he does not have to go on IR because the Wild has a vacant roster spot, opened up when the team sent Wade Dubielewicz back to Houston on Sunday.

Tonight will be Backstrom's first game action since Jan. 23 against the Blue Jackets. Since then, he's had a bad back, a long, undisclosed illness and only practice times. But he assures us he's ready.

"It was a tough couple of weeks sitting in bed or on the couch watching games," Backstrom said. "You want to be here with the guys playing hockey. You miss it."

There was never a doubt in Backstrom's mind he'd play tonight. He was asked if he's 100%

"Every day is better for sure," he said. "You don't want to have a break like [this] during the season, but there's nothing you can do about it. It feels normal out there now."

As for the rest of the lineup, Richards said "we'll see." John Scott, Robbie Earl and James Sheppard were the last three healthy players on the ice. They were joined by Chuck Kobasew, who skated with the team for the first time since spraining the left ACL and MCL in his knee Dec. 26 (a game I covered - sorry, Chuck). The plan, though, is to keep Kobasew out of games until after the Olympic break. More on him in tomorrow's paper.

Owen Nolan missed today's morning skate, but he will play tonight. Andrew Brunette and Shane Hnidy, who missed practice yesterday, are back and ready to go.

OK - back down to ice level I go. If anything comes up this afternoon, you'll find it here. Otherwise, I'll check in after the game.

Stay warm out there. Think Vancouver ....

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