Maxim Noreau is a confident hockey player. He believes he has accomplished all he can individually at the American Hockey League level and deserves a crack at becoming a full-time NHLer.
Saturday, after four years in the Wild organization, the Houston Aeros defenseman played his second NHL game and, finally, his first at Xcel Energy Center.
He had quite the initiation, going head-to-head with Tampa Bay's long list of stars and impact forwards including Steven Stamkos, Vincent Lecavalier and Martin St. Louis.
Noreau held his own, even though the Wild lost 3-1 and was "officially" eliminated from postseason contention after two weeks of being "unofficially" eliminated.
"It's not the best of circumstances coming down here when they're so many points out of the playoffs, but it's a great opportunity for me to come up and prove that I belong in this league and that I can play," said Noreau, who wasn't on the ice for any goals and had three shots in almost 15 minutes.
"Hopefully I can earn some brownie points for next year at camp."
Noreau, 23, was just named an AHL first-team All-Star after being a second-team All-Star last season. He played in his second consecutive All-Star Game and is tied for second among AHL defensemen with 54 points, including a league-leading 33 on the power play.
But with the Wild usually resisting him as a callup, Noreau has had to remain patient. He said he has voiced his frustration to Wild General Manager Chuck Fletcher and Aeros GM Jim Mill.
"Especially when you see other guys keep coming up, it's definitely frustrating," he said. "If you feel like you can play in this league and you watch the games on TV and you're like, 'I can play at that level.' It's even more frustrating."
But Noreau has "fought through it."
"[Aeros assistant coach] Darryl Sydor says, 'If you're a good player, you'll find a way to get there and someone will give you a chance at one point,'" Noreau said. "If I stay on this pace, I'll find a way to the NHL."
With defensemen Nick Schultz (post-concussion syndrome) and Marek Zidlicky (hamstring) sidelined, the Wild used four rookie defensemen, including callup Justin Falk. Clayton Stoner and Jared Spurgeon played well, and coach Todd Richards was happy with Noreau and Falk.
But veteran Brent Burns was on the ice for three goals.
"It was erratic," Richards said of Burns' game. "When you're bringing in some young guys, you have to lean on your guys with the experience to make plays and do things."
After Pierre-Marc Bouchard gave the Wild a 1-0 lead, the Lightning rallied after ex-Wild goalie Dwayne Roloson, who finished with 29 saves, made a huge save on Burns.
The Wild got caught with four players deep, then Bouchard lost his coverage while covering for Burns on the backcheck. Ryan Malone tied it.
Steve Downie won a wall battle with Chuck Kobasew en route to the second goal, then Sean Bergenheim buried St. Louis' 2-on-1 feed for a 3-1 lead in the third.
It came after Burns tried to dive to save the puck at the blue line. Not only did he fail, Mikko Koivu toppled over Burns like a bowling pin.
"And the way these guys defend ..." Richards said of the Lightning.
Well, game over. And, basically, season over for the Wild, which will miss the playoffs for a third consecutive season and fifth time in seven years.
"We aren't giving up," Richards said of the last four games.
Injuries taking toll
• Schultz is done for the season because of postconcussion syndrome. He said he has been experiencing symptoms for a while. He had vision problems after being crushed by San Jose's Jamal Mayers on Jan. 22 and missed three games after being elbowed in the head by Calgary's Tom Kostopoulos on Dec. 18.
• Center John Madden (lower body injury) didn't return after the first period and didn't fly to Detroit. Carson McMillan was recalled to make his NHL debut Sunday.
• Right winger Martin Havlat, who was rocked by a Mattias Ohlund hit during the middle of the game, also didn't make the trip to Detroit because of an undisclosed injury. The Wild called up Colton Gillies after Saturday night's Aeros game.