After four days off — a stretch that included some rest and some energetic practice — the Wild will return to the Xcel Energy Center ice Saturday against Nashville with two milestones about to be reached.
A win would be the 500th of coach Bruce Boudreau’s career. And a goal by Eric Staal would give him 40 for the season, and he would become only the second player in NHL history to score 40 goals without doing it for a nine-year span.
Boudreau isn’t exactly all that interested in his end of that exacta. But for Staal, who is finishing off a splendid regular season, it is a chance to look back and see how much things have changed since he scored 40 goals and had 75 points for Carolina in the 2008-09 season.
“I’m a little more experienced now,’’ he said after Friday’s practice. “I think there are a lot of similarities in my game from back then, things that make my game successful. But I think, since coming here, I’ve done a better job of finding the areas on the ice that you need to score goals from. And also, I’ve been the beneficiary of being with a good group of guys.”
By the way, the only other player to have such a long stretch between 40-goal seasons was Gordie Howe, who scored 44 goals for Detroit during the 1956-57 season, and then 44 again for the Red Wings in the 1968-69 season.
Staal enters Saturday’s game against Nashville with 39 goals and 71 points. He is tied for fourth in the league in goals, 20th in points. His 26 even-strength goals — a career high — rank eighth in the NHL.
“I’ve said this since coming here — I’m the beneficiary of being with a good group of guys,’’ Staal said. “I don’t know how many times I’ve gotten great stretch passes from our defense, or plays down low when you’re around the net. You can put yourself in those areas, but if you don’t have guys that can make those plays, those elite passes, it’s tough to score.”
With two games with Nashville and one with Boston looming in the next four days, Boudreau put the Staal-Jason Zucker-Mikael Granlund back together.
“I thought this was the best fit,’’ Boudreau said. “I can’t sit here and tell you exactly what I’m thinking, just that would be a good fit.’’
Staal, excited about the move, said he expects big things for the trio coming off the four-day break.
“I think we have a chance to be really dynamic every night,’’ he said. “When each of us is playing with confidence, we’re going to get Grade-A looks. We have to be strong defensively, of course. But, as a trio, we can be dynamic. Those are good players to play with.”
Boudreau said he hoped Granlund in particular would benefit from some time between games, allowing that Granlund had looked a bit tired of late. “I’m hoping this week really helped him,’’ Boudreau said. “When he’s skating he’s really good.’’
• Other lines at practice Friday: Mikko Koivu with Charlie Coyle and Zach Parise; Matt Cullen with Nino Niederreiter and Daniel Winnik; and Tyler Ennis, Zach Mitchell and Marcus Foligno all skated on a line with center Joel Eriksson Ek.
• Boudreau said he saw a team Friday that was ready to play. “They’re tired of sitting on the sidelines,’’ he said. “We want to be involved in this thing. ’’