A handful of Wild players were at one end of the ice at Xcel Energy Center on Sunday morning, taking turns taking shots on goal during an optional skate.
But at the other end Matt Cullen was working hard, working up a sweat. He was battling with assistant coach Darby Hendrickson, along the boards, in the corner. It was, by far, the hardest Cullen had worked since missing six games because of a lower body injury.
Afterward? A positive review.
“We’re getting to the point in the season where you have to be in there,” Cullen said. “So it was a good day to push it a little bit. We’ll see how it feels in the morning, how everything is going. But yeah, it was definitely a good day, and it’s definitely getting better.’’
Good enough that Cullen returning to the lineup at Calgary on Monday night is a possibility, if not a probability. Wild coach Mike Yeo wasn’t on the ice, but he was watching Cullen, too. And he liked what he saw.
“He looked really good,’’ Yeo said. “Obviously he’s a very important part. Getting him back in the lineup would give us a boost.”
Could it happen in Calgary? “Yeah, he looked good,” Yeo said. “But we’ll see how it is [Monday morning].’’
But Cullen’s return is imminent, and it couldn’t come soon enough for a Wild team that has gone 1-4-1 without him in the lineup. Linemate Devin Setoguchi, who had developed a killer chemistry with Cullen, has one assist since the injury. The Wild has managed only seven goals in the six games Cullen has missed, getting shut out three times. Cullen had totaled 12 points in the 11 games prior to April 1, when he was injured against St. Louis in what he called “a weird deal.”
“It was like a nothing play,” he said. “I’ve looked at it a few times, and I can’t figure out how it happened.’’
But that resulted in Cullen missing two weeks of action, which with this season’s condensed schedule, meant missing a lot of games.
“It’s been no fun sitting here watching it, that’s for sure,” he said. “But the boys are playing hard, we’re on the doorstep, we’re in a good position now, controlling our own fate. We just have to go out and win some games.”
Having the veteran center back would help. Yeo indicated Cullen and Setoguchi likely would be reunited on a line should Cullen return, with either Jason Zucker or Pierre-Marc Bouchard as the other wing.
Cullen said he pushed himself hard Sunday, trying to test his body to see if he was OK, and that it held up.
“I’m very optimistic,” Cullen said. “It’s one of those things where you have to let it heal to a certain point. Then you just have to deal with it. So it will be all right.”
Rookie Charlie Coyle, ejected 17 seconds into Saturday’s game, received no further supplemental discipline after he was assessed a match penalty for contact to the head of Columbus’ Artem Anisomov. The league deemed it a full bodycheck. The head was not targeted and there was no elbow.
Neither Coyle nor Yeo were surprised, though it didn’t help Yeo much after the fact after having had to play Saturday’s game with juggled lines. “We spent two days talking about our new line combinations and we never even got to try ’em,” Yeo said.
Coyle, meanwhile, disappointed his family, who traveled so far to watch him play. “But they were here for the last game, too, so they got to see that,” said Coyle, who also fought Columbus’ Brandon Dubinsky. “But my little cousins actually enjoyed the fight. That made ’em happy.”