Zach Parise, who missed Thursday's game at St. Louis, and Erik Haula are game-time decisions tonight against Steven Stamkos and the Tampa Bay Lightning, according to coach Mike Yeo.
As insurance and with a game tomorrow at Florida, Jordan Schroeder was recalled from AHL Iowa. He’s not expected to play tonight.
If both Parise and Haula play, a forward will have to come out of tonight’s lineup.
Haula said he’s good to play tonight, and Parise, too, said he “felt really good this morning.”
Parise wants to play, but by the time we talked to Yeo and Parise this morning, Parise said he hadn’t yet talked to Yeo.
Parise said the coaches and trainers chime in, “but I think at this point, it’s up to me knowing whether it’s safe or not. But I felt really good this morning.”
Yeo said, “You’ve got to trust the player, you’ve got to trust the trainer and the doctors. If there was a concern of greater damage or something, then we wouldn’t put him out there. But he’s a pretty darn good player, and if he’s available, we’d like to have him in the lineup.”
So, in summation, Yeo said, “If he plays, then you can be sure” the team feels he can’t further damage his knee. Although, Yeo correctly said, “You’re never 100 percent sure.”
Devan Dubnyk vs. Andrei Vasilevskiy tonight. “Vassy” was actually on my connecting flight yesterday from Atlanta. He played for Syracuse on New Year’s Eve, the night his wife apparently gave birth to their child here in Tampa. So Vasilevskiy was actually getting to meet his newborn yesterday.
The Lightning is reuniting the Triplets from last year’s run to the Stanley Cup Final. That’s because Ondrej Palat is returning from an ankle injury, so he’ll play with Tyler Johnson and the red-hot Nikita Kucherov, who has points in seven consecutive games.
Let’s be honest: With Darcy Kuemper on injured reserve with a concussion, barring an injury tonight, Devan Dubnyk will probably start tomorrow’s game at red-hot Florida (seven wins in a row before tonight's game vs. the Rangers; and Nick Bjugstad may return after missing 14 games with migraines). He gave up seven goals in his last six second of back-to-back situations of last season.
I cannot imagine Niklas Backstrom is going to start his first game in a calendar year.
Backstrom said if he gets the start, “You can’t think too much. You go out there every day, you make sure you do everything you can to be ready. On the other hand too, you need help. It doesn’t matter if you skate 1,000 laps. You need some drills too on the ice to be ready.”
With Kuemper hurt, Backstrom finally has a net to himself every practice.
“Normal days, probably in the practice, I get 5, 10 shots," said Backstrom, a slight exaggeration. "Now you’re where you actually feel the puck and get into it and see the puck and see different situations.”
Asked why he continues to be the first guy on the ice daily and last guy off despite the fact that he may not ever see a game, Backstrom said, “You do it for your teammates. I could go out there with the guys and stand in the corner for the whole practice and get my five shots, but I wouldn’t screw just myself, I’d screw my teammates. I go out there and try to do whatever I can to be ready.”
I had been told that Backstrom, who has a no-move clause, declined to do a conditioning stint in Iowa last month. He denies that. I also believe the Wild would have loved Backstrom to play for Iowa on Thursday and Friday at Manitoba just in case the team needs him tomorrow against the Panthers.
Backstrom said, “Nobody really talked” to him about that, but then he said the potential starts for Iowa wouldn’t have been as much of a benefit as the practices have been here.
“I think this week was the first time I had 3-on-3 or somebody in front of me since training camp,” he said. “It’s not about just playing games. You have to prepare yourself in practice to see the different situations. The practices, that’s the first step.”
Like I said, I bet this is all moot and Dubnyk starts barring something unforeseen tonight.
Yeo said, “If we need him, he’s a pro, he’s been around for a long time.” Yeo said he’s not thinking about tomorrow yet, but “If we play him, we’ll play him with full confidence.”
In world juniors news, Wild prospect Kaapo Kahkonen came in relief for Finland in the second period today and was in the net for Finland’s rally to beat Canada in the quarterfinals. The kid stopped 22 of 24 shots and made some huge saves.
Joel Eriksson Ek scored Sweden’s first goal in a 6-0 win over Slovakia.
Referee Rob Martell will officiate his 1,000th and final NHL game tonight, by the way.
That’s it for now.