Michael Russo has covered the National Hockey League since 1995. He has covered the Minnesota Wild for the Star Tribune since 2005, after 10 years of covering the Florida Panthers for the Sun-Sentinel. He uses “Russo’s Rants” to feed a wide-ranging hockey-centric discussion with readers, and can be heard weekly on KFAN (100.3 FM) radio and seen weekly on Fox Sports North.

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Mike Rupp to play first NHL game in 6 1/2 months; Mikael Granlund, Josh Harding out tonight at St. Louis

Posted by: Michael Russo under Wild pregame skate Updated: November 25, 2013 - 1:00 PM

Rugged veteran forward Mike Rupp will play his first NHL game since May 9’s playoff game against the Chicago Blackhawks tonight when the Wild visits the St. Louis Blues.

Rupp, coming off a five-game conditioning stint with AHL Iowa as the final step in his recoup from offseason knee surgery, draws into the lineup because center Mikael Granlund will miss his second game in a row with an upper-body injury.

Coach Mike Yeo says from what he’s “been told, we don’t have reason to be concerned. We’re just calling him day-to-day and we’ll see what happens here tomorrow.”

Yeo is being hush-hush about what the issue with Granlund is. Like I wrote on yesterday’s blog, he played four games since the Nazem Kadri head shot but was hammered by Marc Methot last Wednesday in Ottawa.

Whatever the injury is, the Wild is clearly thinking there’s a chance Granlund could play Wednesday against Phoenix because if he was already ruled out for that game, the Wild could simply place Granlund on injured reserve retroactive to last Wednesday and call up a forward to replace him. Instead, the Wild is keeping Granlund off IR, which would allow him to play Wednesday if he can.

Torrey Mitchell has been placed on IR (he can come off whenever he’s healthy) and that move allows Darcy Kuemper to back up tonight. Josh Harding was not able to return to St. Louis because of a stiff hamstring that was apparently spasming in Winnipeg.

Apparently, it’s a similar injury to why he had to come out of the Carolina game Oct. 24. Niklas Backstrom played the third period of that game and then consecutive games against Chicago.

Harding’s had some awful luck in this building anyway. He strained his groin here in 2005, which thrust Backstrom onto the NHL stage initially. He tore his ACL and MCL here in his preseason debut in 2010. He also got sick in a tie game here in the preseason. Johan Gustafsson proceeded to come in and the Wild got shellacked in the third.

Same thing as Granlund, the Wild is hoping Harding is a day-to-day thing and can play this weekend. If the Wild was worried, it could put Harding on injured reserve retroactive to the time of injury, but the problem with that is he would have to miss a week.

With the tough stretch of games coming up, the Wild needs Harding back soon.

Backstrom vs. Jaroslav Halak tonight. Ken Hitchcock is going against the grain, starting Halak, who is 1-2-3 against the Wild with a 2.45 goals-against average and .911 save percentage, as opposed to Brian Elliott, who is 4-0 against the Wild with a 2.04 goals-against average.

But both St. Louis goalies are playing great and Halak is 12-3-2 with a 2.34 goals-against average and .906 save percentage (Elliott 4-0-1 with a 1.79 GAA and .932 SV%).

Nate Prosser will skate on the blue line for Minnesota. Matt Dumba is scratched. Kevin Shattenkirk didn’t skate for St. Louis this morning because of the flu, so the Wild may catch a break there.

The Blues have gotten points in 10 straight at home vs. Minnesota since Oct. 20, 2007 (7-0-3, or from the Wild’s standpoint, Minnesota is 3-5-2 in its past 10 at St. Louis).  The Blues have won five in a row vs. the Wild and is 5-0-1 in the past six.

The Blues have scored in 12 of the past 13 periods against Minnesota, at least three goals in three straight home games against Minnesota and outshot the Wild by at least 18 shots in each of the last three home games and 117-60 overall.

So, tough task tonight.

The Rupp-Zenon Konopka-Dany Heatley line should be an interesting one. Konopka is suddenly the best skater on the line, but if that line can play in the offensive zone and ask some size and physicality, it could be utilized well by the Wild tonight.

Yeo said he’s “anxious to have [Rupp] back and his teammates are, too.”

Rupp said the games in Iowa were a good thing for him.

“From Game 1 to Game 5, I’m pleased with the progress in that time,” Rupp said, saying he was trying to just get rid of some bad habits by not playing for so long.

What’s good for Rupp is he gets back to the Wild and can immediately play. A week ago when the Wild had Granlund and Mitchell, Rupp extended his conditioning stint because he thought it would be beneficial to him but because he also knew the Wild wasn’t about to fiddle with its winning lineup.

So Rupp would have done the rehab thing and then risked getting rusty again in the press box. Now he gets to continue getting back into the swing of playing again.

“I’m pleased with what progress has been made in the last 10 days,” Rupp said. “It’s been really good in my head. I want to keep building on that. The more I’m getting reps in practice and the more I’m playing, the stronger I’m going to get.”

Rupp said more than nerves tonight, there’s more “anticipation.”

“The NHL season is a big groove, and you want to find that as quick as you can,” Rupp said. “I’m joining a team that’s been playing really well, so you just want to try to be a part of it and build from game to game.”

I talked to David Backes, Zach Parise and Ryan Suter a lot about the U.S. leadership group they're a part of with Dustin Brown and Ryan Callahan for the Olympics. That will be in tomorrow's paper. I'm also working ahead on a pretty fun story that will hopefully run Wednesday.

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