The mood in the Wild locker room after practice Friday at Xcel Energy Center was pretty relaxed.
Well, when “Angel of the Morning” is on the playlist rotation, how could it be anything else?
Defenseman Matt Dumba and winger Mikael Granlund even played a couple of rounds of the dare game “Odds Are” that ended with Dumba having to take off Granlund’s skates for him. After a 6-4 victory over the New York Islanders on Thursday, that lighthearted mood seemed allowable. But coach Bruce Boudreau doesn’t want those good feelings lingering too long, as the Wild face the back-to-back Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh Penguins on Saturday night.
“It’s one game,” Boudreau said. “If you get too excited about winning your third game of the year when you’re still in last place, I think you can only go downhill from there.”
While Boudreau called Pittsburgh “the best team,” the good news for the Wild is that in two meetings last season, the Wild won 4-2 and 6-2.
“You look at everything. Not only the notes, but we’ve been watching the two games we played against them last year and wondering why we were successful against them,” Boudreau said. “And sometimes you can pick one thing out or two things out. I mean, the other thing is, they’ve just got weapons upon weapons. So it’s pretty hard to plan a defense when they can do so many different things offensively.”
Cullen reuniting with old team
Matt Cullen has suited up for eight different NHL teams in his two-decade career, so playing against a former side isn’t unfamiliar territory for the 40-year-old center.
But he admitted facing off for the first time against Pittsburgh, where he won two of his three Stanley Cups, will be unique.
“It will be different on an emotional level,” said Cullen, who signed with the Wild in August. “Seeing those guys again after everything that went on the last couple years, it’ll be fun. No. 1. On the hockey side of it, it’s a challenge. Just from an emotional standpoint, it’ll be fun to go through it.”
Cullen, who was going to host a bunch of his former teammates at his home on Friday night, said he wasn’t the only one who formed a bond with those players; his three sons are pretty big fans, too.
“It will be interesting to see what they’re wearing for jerseys,” Cullen said. “But they’re excited to come to the game. They had a pretty good set-up in Pittsburgh and were at the rink an awful lot. Those guys are like a lot of uncles to them.”
Niederreiter near return
Winger Nino Niederreiter skated for the second consecutive day back in full practice after a high ankle sprain on Oct. 12. But his return is still uncertain.
“He’s getting better. I don’t know if tomorrow’s the day or if Tuesday’s the day because ankle sprains are weird things,” Boudreau said. “I guess it depends on him and his confidence and what [head athletic trainer] John [Worley] says and what [GM] Chuck [Fletcher] says. We’ll be happy to have him back any time he can come back, but I just don’t know the date that that’s going to happen.”
Niederreiter, at least, is feeling pretty good.
“We do so much bike, and I feel like I’m in great shape,” he said. “At the end of the day, you can feel great off the ice, but it’s like a summer training when the first time you feel like you haven’t done anything all summer. When you get on the ice, obviously, there’s different muscles that you have to use and kind of trust in the ankle again. It’s a good step and today. I felt good, so we’ll see how tomorrow goes.”
The Wild was missing five players from practice Friday.
Charlie Coyle (broken leg) and Zach Parise (back surgery) are recovering from their long-term leg and back injuries, respectively. Cullen and Mikko Koivu weren’t skating, but they were in the building, likely on a maintenance day. And Jason Zucker was excused as his wife, Carly, gave birth to a son Friday morning. Zucker tweeted that both mom and Hendrix Scott Zucker were well and happy.