One more day.
This endless respite in the Wild schedule will actually end Thursday when Alain Vigneault’s New York Rangers invade Xcel Energy Center.
In fact, the Rangers, who have lost two of three, are on the ice now practicing. They’re a fairly decent team, like the best team in the Eastern Conference. How good are they? When Henrik Lundqvist was injured, they went 18-4-3 with mostly Cam Talbot in goal.
They’ve got an exceptional blue line and three awesome scoring lines.
“Playing a great team,” coach Mike Yeo said. “They went to the Finals last year for good reason and I think they’re better this year than they were last year. Well coached, very fast team. Their speed’s a factor every night, they play the right way both sides of the puck.”
Yeo said as much of a challenge as the Rangers present, so does the four-day break. The Wild is 24-5-1 since the All-Star break and has won five in a row. Magic number to make the playoffs is five points. Combination of points attained and/or lost points by the Kings and Jets. I wrote more about the Wild's crazy goal differential since Jan. 15 here, by the way.
“It’ll be a challenge bringing our intensity and focus to where we were when we were in a rhythm. That’s not just going to carry over. We’ve got to find a way to make sure we start that up again.”
Not much going on. Lots of kids have been running around the locker room the past week, like little Kyle Leopold, who is 14 years younger than Matt Dumba, who is 14 years younger than defense partner Jordan Leopold. Consider that Dumba grew up watching Leopold play in Calgary.
When some short, stocky, slow-witted, balding reporter asked Yeo why there have been so many kids around, the entire press scrum (it felt like) yelled, “Spring break.”
“We do try to encourage our players to have their kids go to school,” Yeo deadpanned.
Devan Dubnyk was named the NHL's Third Star of the Month today after being named First Star in February. He led the NHL with 11 wins, compiling a 1.78 goals-against average and .942 save percentage to lead the Wild (44-25-7, 95 points) to an 11-3-0 March and the first Wild Card position in the Western Conference.
Dubnyk becomes the only Wild player to be part of the NHL’s Monthly Three Stars twice in a season/career. In just over two months with the Wild, he has been named NHL First Star of February, NHL Third Star of March, NHL First Star of the Week twice (2/9 and 3/30) and NHL Third Star of the Week once (2/2).
The only other Wild player to ever be awarded NHL monthly honors was Josh Harding, earning NHL Third Star of the Month in Nov. 2013.
Defenseman Nate Prosser, who sprained his MCL March 14, was already back in practice today. Crazy, fast recovery.
That gave the Wild three goalies, 15 forwards, eight defensemen and six coaches on the ice. Thirty-two people on the ice! As I wrote today, feels like training camp.
“Felt like a lot. Strange thing to have for sure, but a lot of pluses to it too,” Yeo said.
Prosser said his knee felt good, his endurance felt good, “So whenever I’m needed, I’ll be ready.”
“There’s a lot of bodies out there,” he said. “Good to have depth. Chuck [Fletcher’s] done a great job bringing in all this depth. We all got to compete and battle to get in the lineup.”
Yeo said there’s “no set date yet as far as when he’ll return to game action. He’s been out for a little bit of time here, but good to get him back on the ice with the group.”
Prosser was playing well, especially on the penalty kill, when he got hurt in St. Louis. He was plus-13 since the All-Star break. He was especially playing well on the left with Dumba. My gut says Prosser eventually plays over Leopold, but we’ll see.
“He’ll get back in,” Yeo said. “We look at these games down the stretch here -- we’ve got to make sure we get in, but we also got to make sure that our game’s sharp and we’ve identified the group we want to start Game 1 with.”
And obviously things change in the playoffs. Heck, at times last postseason, Justin Fontaine, Kyle Brodziak and Dany Heatley were scratched.
Against the Rangers, Erik Haula will be scratched for the sixth time this season and first time since Jan. 29.
Yeo said again everybody can make a case why they deserve to play and have done things for them at different points to get them here, “but we have to make some choices, so we’ll do the best we can.”
Yeo talked to Haula.
“He’s done a great job getting us to here and I’d expect him to play the next game against Detroit. He’s coming out [Thursday]. After his last scratch, I thought he really elevated his game. I think he’s been doing an outstanding job on the penalty kill. There’s a couple parts of his game that crept towards some of the things he was doing [before]. I don’t think that he’s playing bad, but I don’t think he’s playing at quite of the level he was at.”
Yeo reiterated Haula may play Saturday. Asked if there will be a fourth-line rotation, Yeo said, “I don’t know that we have necessarily a plan, but we’ve got to find a way to get some guys in. We’ve got to find a way to make sure everybody’s getting some game action and trying to keep everybody involved. Everybody’s had an impact getting us to this point. We’ll sort through it day by day.”
Asked if this could be a problem, Yeo said, ““We’ve got a good group of guys. Every player wants to play, and as long as they’re handling it with a good attitude and making sure that when they’re out of the lineup they’re supporting the rest of the team and bringing a positive attitude to the rink and working hard so that when they get back in they’re ready, I don’t foresee it being a problem. We have a goal to make the playoffs and then go a long way in the playoffs and depth always come into play in those situations. This is what we have today, but things change rather quickly. What we’re seeing, what we’re talking about a week from now, it’s a good possibility it’ll be different than today.”
I’m writing a story for Thursday’s paper on Dubnyk entering the Hart Trophy conversation in the NHL. So please read that.
On Thursday, I’ll be on KFAN in the morning with Paul Allen and from 3-6:30 p.m., I’ll be filling in for Dan Barreiro on KFAN. My guests include Zach Parise at 5:55 p.m., actor/comedian/Wild fanatic Erik Stolhanske on the Wild and Super Troopers 2 from 4:55-5:30, Rangers play-by-play man Kenny Albert (5:35 p.m.) and Minnesota United coach Manny Lagos at 4:20. I’ll also have Kevin Falness in studio with me (I’m hosting from his lair at the arena, so I thought that was only fair). We’ll be talking hockey and taking calls.
On Thursday, I’ll also be on Fox Sports North during the pregame show and first intermission.
On Friday, I will be hosting a live chat at noon at www.startribune.com/wild and will be hosting a podcast at O’Gara’s at 6 p.m. You can come down or listen at souhanunfiltered.com.