If anybody was going to catch the mumps, naturally it'd be Keith Ballard.
The defenseman's run of bad luck with injuries and now illness has been nonstop since he signed with the Wild before last season.
Ballard missed his seventh consecutive game Tuesday since becoming ill the week of Oct.19. As it turns out, Ballard might have had the mumps. Some of his test results were positive, some negative.
"I've asked my mom and she said I had the vaccine [as a kid], so it makes no sense," Ballard said. "So that's the hard part [team doctors] are trying to wrap their heads around. How would I have gotten it?"
When Ballard and rookie defenseman Christian Folin became ill at the same time, the symptoms included swollen jaws — a classic mumps symptom. At the same time, several St. Louis Blues also were ill. Because both teams were in California around the same time, team trainers from both consulted and the Wild learned some Blues players tested positive for the mumps virus.
Ballard and Folin were immediately sent for tests; Folin's was negative. He missed five games and returned Saturday against Dallas.
"I had lots of flu symptoms — achy, fever, weak, zero energy," Ballard said. "Some days, even if I went out to run an errand, I was wiped out. I'd come home and lay down for three hours. I've been going to bed around 6 or 8 p.m., sleep for 12 hours and wake up exhausted. It was awful."
Ballard has practiced the past few days, is slowly regaining energy and feels he's on the upswing. He plans to be on the upcoming road trip to Ottawa, Montreal and New Jersey "unless maybe I get sick again," he said, only half-sarcastically.
It's been a tough year-plus for Ballard, the former Gophers two-time national champion and Baudette, Minn., native. He missed 30 games last season because of two concussions, broken ribs and a sports hernia. Now, maybe the mumps.
"They kind of add up. It's like, 'Again,'" said Ballard, 31. "I've been injured a bunch the last year. It doesn't get me down to the point where I'm miserable, but it's frustrating not being able to play, watching games because it looks so fun out there."
It's especially been frustrating because the Wild already has seen Jonas Brodin and Jared Spurgeon suffer injuries, so there would have been an opportunity for Ballard to play consistently. Nate Prosser, picked off waivers before the season, has been a tremendous insurance policy and played his eighth consecutive game Tuesday.
"But it's a long year," Ballard said. "Lots of games left. That's why the mental part is so important. You can't be so down and out. I've been around long enough to understand that for the team to go a long way, you need to use your depth."
Haula vs. Malkin
Tuesday's game against Pittsburgh was Wild center Erik Haula's first game against Penguins star Evgeni Malkin since Malkin broke Haula's jaw on their first shift of the world championship title game between Russia and Finland in May.
"When you get a stick in someone's face, I think it's a dirty play, but I don't think it was intentional," Haula said. "I think he was protecting himself from my check and his reaction was to lift his stick. I skated right into it."
Haula knew right away he was in dire straits because he barely could talk. But he put on a full face shield and played the rest of the game (Russia won gold).
Luckily for Haula, he didn't need surgery: "It was a clean break, but I didn't have to start my summer getting screws. Just ate soft foods."
•Center Ryan Carter (upper-body) returned Tuesday and Stephane Veilleux was scratched.