Koivu's back (at practice); will Wild run out of time?

  • Article by: MICHAEL RUSSO , Star Tribune
  • Updated: March 8, 2011 - 6:58 AM

The team hopes reinforcements arrive soon enough to boost its playoff hopes.

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Mikko Koivu

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On the day Mikko Koivu was welcomed back to practice, the bigger news might have been that Guillaume Latendresse is "close" to returning to the Wild's lineup.

"He's getting closer," coach Todd Richards said. "[Tuesday], maybe. On the road trip, maybe."

Yes, Richards said that the big, hulking power forward's return to the Wild's lineup as soon as Tuesday against the Colorado Avalanche is a "maybe."

Latendresse wasn't that committal. If he is that close to returning, the public will have to wait until Tuesday morning to find out.

"It's day-to-day to week-to-week," he said, laughing. "Can be [Tuesday], can be in two weeks. We don't know. We're going to make a decision everybody together, but for now, no decision has been taken."

It is becoming clearer, though, that Latendresse -- who hasn't played since Oct. 25 because of two torn groins, two hernias and a torn labrum in his hip -- simply needs to overcome that one final hurdle all athletes have to face when returning from a major, long-term injury: the mental one.

"I don't want to go out there and play one minute, wait for 10, go back and get cold and get hurt," Latendresse said.

Latendresse, who's still dealing with pain, eventually will be eased into the lineup, starting out on the fourth line and power play.

But he sounds worried about being more of a detriment in such a tight playoff race. After all, Latendresse will be at training camp speed while the rest of the league is going full throttle during the most amped-up point of the season.

"Where we are in the season, it's so important that one little mistake can change the whole game," he said. "You don't want to be out there and not be able to do your play in the defensive zone and make a fool of yourself.

"When you haven't played in four months, you want to make sure you're confident and everything's in sync."

Still, for the third-lowest scoring team in the West and fifth lowest in the NHL (2.56 goals per game), Latendresse's return can only be a "boost," defenseman Nick Schultz said.

"We could use that big body going to the tough areas and fighting for pucks. If he can find that scoring touch again that he had last year, it would be so huge."

Latendresse scored 25 goals in 55 games for the Wild last season. He scored the Wild's first goal of the 2010-11 season on the type of goal the Wild so lacks -- a drive to the net and finish. The Wild has been generating plenty of chances lately and driving the net impressively.

But it has not found that routine finish.

"When he went down, you're looking at the goals that he got for us last year, we're missing that," said Richards, adding that if Latendresse was healthy this season, he'd have on the "low end, 15, 16, 17 goals right now. On the low end. That might be two or three more wins right there."

On a day Cal Clutterbuck (upper body) and Andrew Brunette (sick) didn't practice, Koivu did. The Wild is 3-3-2 since the captain broke a finger and could desperately use him back.

Still, Koivu is not ready for battle drills and had trouble gripping his stick. The effect on his shot and passing was visible.

"It's tough to explain," Koivu said. "A couple minutes it doesn't even hurt and the next second it moves and does. It's still far away from being normal, but I actually felt better than I thought."

Koivu will travel on the upcoming trip, and Richards said perhaps a return Monday in Vancouver or March 17 in San Jose isn't out of the question.

Koivu said he will have daily contact with the doctors by phone.

"Every game is huge," he said. "It is always. But when you get closer to the end, that's what hurts even more. Obviously you want to get back as soon as possible. It's not a good feeling."

In the meantime, the Wild can't rely on quick rescues from Latendresse and Koivu. There are 16 games left and the Wild, at 75 points, probably will need around 95 points to make the playoffs.

"All I know is Tuesday's game is a chance to get two points, and literally that's it," Richards said. "I think you go crazy [if you think about how many points are needed]. You'd probably spend a lot of nights staring at the ceiling in the bed if you're trying to figure those things out."

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