The Wild has been in this position before, needing to recalibrate after injury subtracted a key player.
Actually, being shorthanded is more familiar to the 2017-18 version than operating at full strength.
Never, though, has the circumstance has been as grim as this.
Defenseman Ryan Suter suffered a fracture in his right ankle against the Stars on Saturday on the brink of the final week of the regular season, a loss that weakens the Wild’s lineup but hasn’t diminished the team’s spirit as it prepares to continue its push to the playoffs without Suter.
“Every team, they lose good players and then they’ve got to come out and play,” coach Bruce Boudreau said. “We’re no different there, so we’re going to put our best foot forward and we’re going to play.”
Suter requires surgery and will miss the remainder of the season and any playoffs, a hole in the lineup that seems difficult to fill. The 33-year-old logged more minutes than any skater on the team and held responsibilities in every situation. He was injured late in the second period of the 4-1 loss to the Stars after his right foot slammed awkwardly into the boards after he was hit by winger Remi Elie.
“I talked to him on the plane ride home [from Dallas on Saturday] and just told him what a great season he had,” center Matt Cullen said. “He’s expected to be so good all the time, but I don’t think he gets enough credit when he’s even better than normal, and I think this year he’s been exceptionally good both offensively and defensively.
“We’ve faced a lot of turnover on the back end this year and just the job he’s done had been huge for us.”
While the team will be unable to produce a stand-in who duplicates Suter’s impact, the Wild can try to find a new normal without him — a process that began Monday against the Oilers in the team’s final home game of the regular season.
Matt Dumba and Jonas Brodin were the top duo, Nick Seeler and Ryan Murphy filled out the second unit and newcomer Carson Soucy worked alongside Nate Prosser on the third pairing.
“This is an early dose of adversity for us in what we hope will be a long run,” Cullen said. “So we’ve got to be able to manage it, and we’re going to rally around it.”
And although this absence is a tough blow to absorb, it hasn’t dimmed the eagerness the Wild feels for a potential playoff berth.
“This is the best time of the year,” Cullen said. “For sure we feel awful for Ryan, and we’re going to miss him. There’s no doubt about it. We’re going to miss him. There’s no replacing him. But this is a time where guys can step up and do something special. So think we all understand that and realize that, but we’re awfully excited here going forward. We’re going to miss Ryan, but he’s going to be here with us and we’re going to try our best to have a good run.”
Defenseman Jared Spurgeon (right hamstring tear) skated Monday for the third time, Boudreau said.
Spurgeon won’t accompany the Wild to California, where it begins a three-game road trip to close out the regular season Wednesday, but he’ll probably meet up with the team after its game Thursday against the Kings.
“He skated well,” Boudreau said. “I’m sure that he’s definitely ready for the playoffs and definitely if we needed him before this week was over, then he’d be playing.”
As for fellow blueliner Gustav Olofsson, who’s dealing with a concussion, he still hasn’t skated and also will not join the team for the start of the trip.
After getting recalled from the American Hockey League Sunday, Soucy became the fifth player this season to make his NHL debut with the Wild when he jumped into the lineup Monday.
“I think it’ll be a little bit of a surreal moment,” Soucy said. “You don’t think about it that much as a kid that it could be a possibility, but these last couple years I’ve been working for it. I’m definitely looking forward to it.”
At 6-5 and 208 pounds, Soucy combines size and reach with solid mobility. It took time, he said, to adjust to the pro game after spending the previous four seasons with the University of Minnesota Duluth, but Soucy has noticed more consistency and confidence in his play as he gained experience in Iowa.
“He’s played really well down there,” Boudreau said. “They would have liked to bring him up earlier, but we couldn’t. He’s done a really good job.”