Cullen pressed into service on blue line

  • Article by: MICHAEL RUSSO , Star Tribune
  • Updated: March 23, 2012 - 12:48 AM

Matt Cullen (7)

Photo: Carlos Gonzalez, Star Tribune file

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Matt Cullen was giving the Wild defensemen -- or what was left of them -- a hard time after Thursday's 3-2 shootout victory over Calgary, saying, "It's not as hard as it looks back there."

Cullen, a veteran center, was joking because in the last five minutes of regulation and in overtime, he was called on to play defense because Jared Spurgeon and Marco Scandella were injured and Steve Kampfer missed a few shifts because of a foot injury.

When Scandella left, assistant coach Rick Wilson gave Cullen a quick remedial lesson on the bench.

Asked what he could possibly learn so shortly, Cullen said, laughing, "Don't get beat. What are you going to do? You know how to play hockey. Just figure it out a little bit. Fortunately I wasn't put in too many tough spots."

Cullen plays the point on the power play, but this was a different animal. He didn't look entirely comfortable.

"By no means am I a smooth backwards skater. I'm not [retired mobile defenseman] Bret Hedican back there," Cullen said.

Spurgeon suffered a possible concussion and Scandella needs X-rays after blocking a shot. The Wild has Kurtis Foster waiting in the wings, but it might need to recall a defenseman.

Koivu offers boost

Captain Mikko Koivu returned after missing 15 consecutive games and 23 of the past 27 because of a shoulder injury.

Coach Mike Yeo said it should give Dany Heatley "an automatic jump and lift," and against the Flames, he did score his second goal in 17 games and ended an eight-game drought.

"He's been bouncing around from line to line and that can be difficult," Yeo said. "Playing with Mikko, without even trying, it prepares you differently because you know that every shift at every moment the puck can end up on your stick. As a goal scorer, that excites you."

Kyle Brodziak, who has a career-high 19 goals and 39 points, dropped from the first line to the checking line. He's played the third-most minutes on the team.

"It probably will benefit Brodzy to have a bit less workload," Yeo said. "He's played high minutes and he plays a hard game."

Reaching a milestone

After 1,500 games of sharpening skates and ordering sticks, Tony DaCosta didn't have to think long when asked his worst moment: "The equipment fire."

He also didn't have to think long about his best: "Recovering from the fire and still having a job afterward," DaCosta said, laughing, Thursday before working his 1,500th NHL contest.

The Wild's head equipment manager, who began his career with the Winnipeg Jets before moving with them to Phoenix, has had a lot of ups and one giant down during his career -- the Dec. 18, 2009, truck fire in Kanata, Ontario, that destroyed almost all of the Wild's equipment before they were to face Ottawa.

"To be around is special. You can't take it for granted," said DaCosta, who along with athletic therapist Don Fuller has been in Minnesota since the Wild's 2000 inception. "I've been fortunate it's always been in this league, which is pretty cool. I was 13 when I started as a stickboy, so this is my schooling. I know how tape is made.

"I've met some great people along the way, which is the best thing. Good people have come and gone like Schultzy [Nick Schultz] and Bruno [Andrew Brunette] and [Keith] Tkachuk and Teppo Numminen. To get to be the head guy in the best league in the world and being one of 30 of them, it's pretty cool."

Etc.

• Left wing Matt Kassian missed Thursday's game because of a groin injury.

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