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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Mikael Granlund status for Sunday unclear; Another goaltender pickle for the Wild?

Posted by: Michael Russo under Wild practice Updated: December 21, 2013 - 2:14 PM

First day of winter here in New York City and it’s a balmy 60 degrees outside. Sunday, the high is supposed to get to 66.

The Wild, looking to rebound from Thursday’s 5-2 loss at Pittsburgh, takes on the struggling New York Rangers on Sunday night at 6:30 p.m. CT. I will be on Fox Sports North during the 6 p.m. pregame show and first intermission.

Today, the Wild practiced over at the Sky Rink at Chelsea Piers. The rink backs up to the Law & Order: SVU sound stage. Back in the day when I was at the rink covering a Panthers practice, I was able to actually walk on the sets, like the precinct and DA’s office and courtroom.

I was hoping to do the same today, maybe even film my Wild Minute with a gavel in my hand. Alas, the set was locked, but I was able to mosey around the props area, which was pretty neat.

Over on the ice, coach Mike Yeo ran the Wild through a second consecutive up-tempo practice. Mikael Granlund pretty much skated on every line and looked like a player begging to return to the lineup.

Afterward, Yeo said Granlund had another “great practice,” but then he said it’s a day-to-day process right now and he doesn’t know if he’ll return against the Rangers.

Something changed in the past few days. In Pittsburgh, Yeo said it was his decision not to play Granlund because he only had one practice under his belt Tuesday at home and a couple good days of practice Friday and Saturday may do the trick. After practice Friday though, Yeo revealed that Granlund hasn’t officially been given clearance to return to game action.

Today, Yeo said vaguely that the decision is not his. Athletic therapist Don Fuller will tell Yeo when Granlund can return after consultation with team doctors and Granlund. Through a spokesman, GM Chuck Fletcher, who is not with the team, said the Wild will let the media know when Granlund is cleared to play and the team has no comment.

Basically, the Wild is going to be careful with him. He was rushed back into the lineup last time and lasted a shift, so they want to make sure this time. One issue is if he winds up not playing Sunday or Monday, remember, there are no NHL practices allowed Dec. 24, 25 and 26 prior to the Wild’s game in Winnipeg on Dec. 27. So if he doesn’t return before the break, will he be able to return right after the break?

Frankly, I’ve got the same curiosity about Josh Harding. The Wild says it expects him back Dec. 27 in Winnipeg, but I can’t imagine he’d be able to play after not being with the team for more than a week.

Back to Granlund, Yeo said if he gets word Granlund’s playing, he’ll look at it as a bonus. If not, he’s focusing on the lines I posted yesterday. Yeo again said it’s time for some of his non-existent offensive players to step up and contribute. I’ll write more about one in Sunday’s paper. Yeo did say if Granlund returns, he would likely be reunited with Jason Pominville. Their chemistry was tremendous in late October and prior to Granlund getting hurt.

Just an FYI, there is no morning skate Sunday because Madison Square Garden has a women’s basketball doubleheader during the day. Besides the fact that this should make for the typical garbage ice that MSG is world famous for, the Wild players, who have gameday routines, aren’t even allowed at the rink earlier in the day to work on sticks and stuff like that.

I don’t know how the NHL allows this, but regardless, we won’t know about Granlund until at least Yeo’s pregame availability around 5:05 p.m. CT.

So, don’t ask me on Twitter if Granlund’s playing!!!!

In other goaltending news, and proving nothing ever, ever, ever goes easy for Yeo and the Wild, the team was expected to make a goalie swap today and bring up Darcy Kuemper to back up Niklas Backstrom against the Rangers and maybe start him against the Flyers.

Kuemper is on fire right now in the A (here's his game logs), has been one of the three stars in seven of his past eight starts and is coming off a 44-save shutout against Hamilton last night – one of four 40-save performances in his past 12. He’s given up two goals or fewer in his last four starts.

Well, guess what? Listening between the lines to Yeo today, coupled with the fact that I noticed Kuemper missed some time last week in Abbotsford and got crushed at one juncture in last night's game, I get the impression Kuemper’s hurt.

The only thing Yeo would say is he knows he had a great game last night, but he’s not necessarily coming up. As of now, there’s no transaction of Kuemper’s recall, which means Gustafsson is likely staying.

Backstrom will start vs. the Rangers.

The big question is who starts in Philadelphia. Gustafsson is only 21 and has had an inconsistent season his rookie year in the AHL, so would the Wild be willing to throw him to the wolves against the Flyers for his NHL debut? It’s not like he can’t tend goal. He competes and is athletic and he's had great seasons in Sweden and led Sweden to gold at world juniors a few years back. But I do know that the Wild has felt he's not ready.

Or, will Backstrom, 35, have to start on back-to-back nights? Obviously, Backstrom’s performance and how much work he endures against the Rangers will be the deciding factor for Yeo and goalie coach Bob Mason.

Whatever’s ailing Kuemper, if he suddenly gets better, he’d likely fly directly from Des Moines to Philadelphia.

Talk to you Sunday.


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