The red, no-contact sweater was gone, proof that Wild center Mikko Koivu took another step Thursday.
Koivu, out the past 13 games after reinjuring his shoulder, was cleared for contact, and he took the ice at St. Thomas Academy and took full part in the up-tempo practice, including several battle drills. But that doesn't mean Koivu will return to action Saturday afternoon against Carolina. Coach Mike Yeo said Koivu will see how he feels after practicing Thursday, will practice again Friday and then a decision might get made.
"We're not going to put him in a bad spot," Yeo said. "This is the first day he's had a chance to get out there and have any battle drills. We want to make sure we give him a chance to get into those battles, to be comfortable with them again and also make sure he has full confidence that, next time he hits the ice, he can do those things without any problems."
Still, there appears to be a chance Koivu could play against Carolina.
Koivu said he was able to go 100 percent in the practice.
"As soon as you get cleared for contact, you go and do it and see how it reacts, then go from there," Koivu said. "I don't think you can go and not play 100 percent. You have to test it and see how it responds."
Yeo had Koivu skating on a line with Dany Heatley and Stephane Veilleux.
Center Matt Cullen, who took a knee-to-knee hit from Dallas Stars winger Brenden Morrow on Tuesday, was sore and did not practice Thursday. Yeo said he hoped Cullen would be able to skate in practice Friday.
"[Friday] will be a big day for sure," Yeo said. That said, Cullen could still play Saturday if he can't skate Friday, Yeo said. "But it would be nice for him to have a chance to get out there [Friday] and test it out," Yeo said.
Cullen has been a very durable player with the Wild, playing in 78 games last season. This year he has missed just one game, because of illness.
• Devin Setoguchi and goalie Josh Harding were held out of practice Thursday. Yeo said Setoguchi was given a maintenance day. Harding, who has dealt with a lower body injury, just needed an extra day as well.
• Goalie Niklas Backstrom took full part in practice, a very good sign. The Wild brought an extra goaltender -- Darcy Kuemper -- to St. Thomas in case Backstrom got sore or tired. "He looked really good," Yeo said. "If he got sore or tired, he was told to back off and to give it a rest. But he didn't do that, which is obviously a good sign."
So there is a chance the Wild could have three available goaltenders for Saturday. If both Harding and Backstrom are 100 percent, Matt Hackett would likely get sent back down to Houston. But Yeo said no decision would be made until after Friday's practice at the earliest.
• Defenseman Justin Falk (lower body) is skating on his own and is getting closer to returning to practice, Yeo said.