Coach Mike Yeo kept us in the dark about the Wild’ lineup against the Chicago Blackhawks, but Nino Niederreiter has a bruised foot (not a break) and will play and there’s a very, very, very good possibility Jason Zucker returns from a broken collarbone unless he says he’s unable after warmups.
Zucker has missed 26 games since Feb. 9 and certainly looked like a guy prepping to play. The Wild has won a franchise-record 10 consecutive road games and is 6-2-4 in the second of back-to-backs this year (thanks to Devan Dubnyk).
My guess is Jordan Schroeder plays for Ryan Carter.
My guess is if Zucker returns, Erik Haula is out.
My guess is defenseman Jordan Leopold plays for Nate Prosser.
My guess is Matt Cooke’s return waits.
My guess is Dubnyk starts. He is 4-0-1 in the second of back-to-backs with a 1.17 goals-against average and .967 save percentage since being pulled Jan. 20 at Detroit. Dubnyk is 14-1-1 in 17 road starts with a 1.44 goals-against average and .952 save percentage.
The Wild would clinch a playoff berth if they defeat the Blackhawks in regulation or overtime OR if they win in a shootout AND any of the following occurs:
- the Flames fail to win in regulation or overtime;
- the Jets lose in any fashion; or
- the Kings lose in any fashion.
* The Wild also would clinch a playoff berth if they lose to the Blackhawks in overtime or a shootout AND any of the following occurs:
- the Kings lose in regulation;
- the Kings lose in overtime or a shootout AND the Jets lose in regulation;
- both the Flames and Kings lose in any fashion; or
- the Flames lose in any fashion AND the Jets lose in regulation.
* If the Wild lose to the Blackhawks in regulation, they would clinch a playoff berth if both the Flames and Kings lose in regulation.
Only in the NHL can you have clinching scenarios this complicated. The fun part is everybody plays tonight: L.A at Edmonton (Kings beat the Oilers 8-zip last week). Calgary vs. Arizona (Coyotes stink). Jets playing in St. Louis. Tough game for Winnipeg.
Plain, simple: If the Wild wins in regulation or overtime, and the Wild’s in.
Let’s see if it can take care of business … this time.
Yeo on Niederreiter: “I think he’s going to be fine. There’s no breaks. Just a bit of a bruise. I’m expecting him to play. There’s no damage there.”
On the lineup, Yeo said, “We’re contemplating a few [changes], but there’s nothing set in stone.”
On Zucker, “There is a possibility that he could be in.”
Yeo said Cooke is “getting close. We have lineup decisions to make for tonight. We’ve got a lot of guys at our disposal. Everybody brings something different to the table. Zuck, his speed and the season that he’s been having, we’re very hopeful that he can come in and get up to speed in a real hurry and has the ability to play in different roles.”
Cooke, Yeo said is a veteran guy, a big part of “our PK, real effective in his role especially this time of year.”
On being battle tested for this, Yeo said, “We’ve faced adversity before, whether it was at different points of this season, whether it was previous years. Certainly whenever you’re in a situation like this, you want to draw upon that. And thats where the value of leadership comes in, just kind of showing the way. It’s not about what you say, it’s about how you go out and perform. When you step over the boards, the message you’re sending to the group that we have there.”
Asked though if he loses sleep that the Wild never does anything the easy way, Yeo said, “That’s kind of been our MO (smiling). That’s OK. Nothing good comes easy. But there really is no easy way. We played a very desperate, very good hockey team last night. We lost a hockey game, that happens. When we wake up this morning, there’s still a bitter taste in our mouth. Bottom line is, we’re still in a better position than most teams. We have three hard games coming up, but we’ve been a real good team over this last little stretch. We just have to make sure we’re ready each game to assert ourselves.”
Zucker said he has taken some contact from teammates in full equipment, but he said let’s be honest, “Full equipment isn’t really full equipment. You don’t know how it really feels until it happens in a game.”
Zucker said if he plays, “I’ll be ready. But I haven’t heard anything yet. It’s always a little bit different. Obviously none of your teammates want to crush you in practice or anything like that, but as far as what I’ve been doing, it’s been feeling good.”
On being out so long and how rusty he thinks he’ll be with the league so playoff-ready, Zucker said, “You never know. This is a hard time of year to be playing. It’s definitely a fun time to be playing, as well. I’ve obviously been out awhile, but I just want to get back in there.
“The process takes awhile, but once you get to this point and you’re almost playing again, it’s definitely fun. I know for myself, it’s just wanting to get back out there and help the team.”
Niederreiter said of the Matt Dumba blast that hit him, “I was just trying to get out of the way and hope it went in the net. But then it hit my foot. It was a great shot and we want the D to shoot the puck and sometimes you get hit.
“I was very happy that nothing major happened.”
Brad Richards is out for the Blackhawks with an upper-body injury. Patrick "Stanchion" Kane is still out with the broken collarbone. Bryan Bickell playing, so 1-0 Hawks already.