One day after the jubilation of a big Wild victory in front of an electric crowd that verified how much it’s craving the Wild’s first postseason in five years, all attention turned to the health of Jason Pominville.
The last we saw of Pominville on Tuesday night, the former Buffalo Sabres captain barely could make it to the bench after Los Angeles Kings captain Dustin Brown flailed his left elbow into Pominville’s face.
There will be a further update Thursday, but officially, General Manager Chuck Fletcher would only say Wednesday that Pominville is day-to-day because of an upper-body injury.
Pominville was rattled by the flagrant shot from Brown in the second period that somehow went unseen by four officials yet resulted in his being suspended from the Kings’ final two regular-season games. Pominville struggled to his feet, then was wobbly as he tried to skate off.
The Wild has not said Pominville has a concussion, but he did miss nine games with one in October 2010 after being hit from behind by Chicago’s Niklas Hjalmarsson.
If Pominville misses games, it would be a severe blow to a team that is close to clinching a playoff berth for the first time since winning the Northwest Division in 2008.
The Wild, which has two more games, can clinch with a victory over the Edmonton Oilers on Friday. If the Columbus Blue Jackets lose in regulation to Dallas on Thursday, the Wild would clinch even before playing Friday.
Pominville has made a significant impact since arriving in a trade deadline deal April 3 — coincidentally 10 hours before Dany Heatley was lost for the season because of a shoulder injury. Pominville, who lately has helped elevate a line with Pierre-Marc Bouchard and Kyle Brodziak, has scored four goals and five points in 10 games, including four two-point games. Those multi-point games came in three victories and a shootout loss to Columbus that Pominville himself scored with 3 minutes, 15 seconds left to force overtime.
Fletcher said it was too soon to say if the Wild would need to recall a forward from its American Hockey League affiliate in Houston. It had to reassign Stephane Veilleux, who was up on an emergency recall, on Tuesday once Zenon Konopka was able to play on his broken foot. Mike Rupp, who has missed four games because of a knee injury, is getting closer to a return, too.
Brown’s suspension included Wednesday’s game at Detroit to end his streak of 314 consecutive games played and resulted in $34,324.32 in lost salary.
Some criticized the Wild for its lack of retaliation toward Brown the rest of the game. Reached Wednesday, coach Mike Yeo said, “Need to win, simple as that. We take a penalty and they score and Brown has hurt a lot more than Poms. If that happens, no one would have been more upset than Poms. He wants our team in the playoffs.”
After Tuesday’s 2-1 victory, Yeo praised the Wild’s leadership, especially captain Mikko Koivu, Zach Parise and Ryan Suter. Not only were they vocal in the locker room, they took it onto the ice.
In Sunday’s 4-1 loss to Calgary, a game in which the Wild struggled to score in despite great chances the first two periods, the three registered 21 shots. Tuesday, Koivu had five shots, won 11 faceoffs and was “unbelievable all over the ice,” Yeo said. Parise’s work ethic was, as usual, impressive and he sent a brilliant pass to Charlie Coyle through a defender’s legs for the first goal. And Suter, he played 32-plus minutes for his fifth 30-minute game in the past nine.
“This time of year you see your leaders playing like that … everybody was going right along with him,” Yeo said.
One often overshadowed leader because he doesn’t wear a letter on his chest and resides in the blue paint is Niklas Backstrom. Tied for second in the NHL with 23 victories and having started 25 of the past 26 games because of Josh Harding’s complications with multiple sclerosis, Backstrom says he has done his best to try to be there for his teammates nightly.
Asked if he’s tired, Backstrom laughed, saying, “It’s hard to say yourself. You just try to be ready. It’s also a mental thing. You don’t want to say that you’re tired because then you start to feel tired.”
Backstrom has seen his game go up and down lately, which has mirrored the team. But he feels Monday’s meeting in which players refocused on the golden opportunity to make the playoffs really catapulted the Wild into a solid effort against the Kings.
“We had been cheating a little bit, so we just got back to basics and played the right way,” Backstrom said. “But now we move on and get ready for [Edmonton] and have to do the same thing.”