One tough guy, Kassian is back

  • Article by: KENT YOUNGBLOOD , Star Tribune
  • Updated: December 30, 2011 - 12:05 AM

Matt Kassian arrived at the Xcel Energy Center Thursday morning after a 7:30 a.m. flight out of Houston. He brought with him a few sticks, his bag of gear, a smile ... and a reputation for being a pretty tough guy.

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The Wild's Matt Kassian (right) and the Oilers' Darcy Hordichuk mixed it up at the start of the third period Thursday night.

Photo: Marlin Levison, Star Tribune

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Nearly a half-hour after the game Matt Kassian was still pumped up and wired. "It's a little bit of a rush for me, every time," he explained. "I was a little fired up."

He had arrived at the Xcel Energy Center Thursday after a 7:30 a.m. flight out of Houston. He brought with him a few sticks, his bag of gear, a smile ... and a reputation for being a pretty tough guy.

And while coach Mike Yeo downplayed it before the game, there was a reason the 6-5, 247-pound Kassian was in the lineup against Edmonton. To push back.

At least three Wild players -- including Marek Zidlicky, Pierre-Marc Bouchard and most recently Jared Spurgeon -- have been run at in recent games. Yeo has been talking about players standing up for teammates. Just a week ago, in a very physical loss in Edmonton, the Wild got pushed around a little. For this rematch -- the sixth and final game between the two teams -- Kassian got the call.

"I think we expected this coming in," Wild winger Jarod Palmer said. "It was pretty intense in Edmonton. It was a bitter loss. We were pretty sour. They took it to us. We wanted some revenge."

In a very physical game, with hits all over the ice, Kassian stood up. After the Wild took a 3-1 lead in the second period, Darcy Hordichuk challenged Kassian to a fight at center ice. Kassian dispatched Hordichuk, then skated to the penalty box pumping his arm up and down. The two found themselves next to each other for the third-period faceoff. Round two was coming; Hordichuk already had taken off his elbow pads in preparation.

It took Kassian no time to knock Hordichuk down again. This time Kassian skated to the box twirling his arm. Don't ask him why, he doesn't remember doing it.

"A little bit of adrenaline," he explained.

But he was thrilled to be there for his team. "Any time you have a team that's going to push, you want to push back, harder than they did, right?" he said. "You don't want to back down, you don't want to have guys feeling uncomfortable out there. If I can provide that sort of feeling for my teammates, that's what I'm going to go out and do."

It was appreciated.

"Say what you want about fighting, but it can change the dynamic of a game," said Dany Heatley. Added Palmer: "It makes everybody feel a little tougher."

Kassian wasn't the only one. Hits were going on everywhere. At the end, when Ryan Smyth got into it with Wild goalie Niklas Backstrom, defenseman Nate Prosser game to his defense.

But it was Kassian who really pushed back. "Yeah, that was push back," Yeo said.

A first

When Palmer broke down the right side and beat Oilers goaltender Nikolai Khabibulin with a wrist shot high on the glove side, he had scored his first NHL goal. And he had also become the seventh native Minnesotan to score a goal for the Wild.

"It felt like it was the first goal I ever scored," he said.

The Fridley native was playing in his sixth game with the Wild since getting the call to the big club. After the game, Yeo praised Palmer for his composure. Palmer was on the ice for Edmonton's first goal. But he brushed that off and came back to score the goal that gave the Wild the lead for good. After talking to reporters, Palmer was given the puck and he posed for pictures.

"We really needed a win," he said. "It was awesome to be a part of that."

Etc.

• Devin Setoguchi (knee) could return to practice with the team as early as Tuesday. Jared Spurgeon (lower body) continues to feel better, according to Yeo. But Spurgeon has yet to return to skating on his own.

• Defenseman Mike Lundin was a healthy scratch. Left wing Colton Gillies was scratched to make room for Kassian.

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