TAMPA, FLA. – With Darcy Kuemper on injured reserve because of a concussion and Devan Dubnyk having started Saturday's game at Tampa Bay, Sunday's game against the Florida Panthers will be the closest Niklas Backstrom has come in nearly a calendar year to starting an NHL game.
Barring something unforeseen, the chance of Backstrom starting still is slim, but coach Mike Yeo said Saturday, "If we play him, we'll play him with full confidence."
Dubnyk was lights out in the second half of back-to-back situations last season, giving up seven goals in his past six such scenarios. But what makes Sunday more unique is the puck drop for Sunday's game is 23 hours after the start of the Lightning game and Yeo says the Wild needs to "look at the big picture" and not overwork Dubnyk during a stretch of eight games in 13 nights.
Dubnyk recently cut his wrist and missed time because of a strained groin. But Backstrom, the all-time leader in Wild history with 194 victories, hasn't played an NHL game since being pulled last Jan. 13 in Pittsburgh. Dubnyk was acquired the next day.
If Backstrom, 37, starts Sunday, it'll come after a week of having his own net in practice. He usually shares one cage with Kuemper.
"Normal days, probably in the practice, I get five, 10 shots," said Backstrom, with a bit of hyberbole. "Now you're where you actually feel the puck and get into it and see the puck and see different situations."
Backstrom is usually the first player on and last player off every practice. Asked why he has done that despite little chance of playing, 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 that would hurt himself and his teammates. "I go out there and try to do whatever I can to be ready."
It's believed the Wild wanted Backstrom to play Thursday and Friday for Iowa at Manitoba to help him prepare for a potential NHL start Sunday. Backstrom, who has a no-move clause, said "nobody really talked" to him about that and the practices with Minnesota would be more beneficial than those starts anyway.
New line, old injury
After missing Thursday's game in St. Louis, Zach Parise played against Tampa Bay on a new second line with Mikael Granlund and Thomas Vanek. It lasted five shifts. Jason Pominville was moved to the third line but was back up on the second line by midway through the first period.
Parise, who aggravated a right knee injury, said, "At this point, it's up to me knowing whether it's safe or not."
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."
With Parise back, Justin Fontaine was scratched.
• Wild prospect Kaapo Kahkonen, a goalie drafted in the fourth round in 2014, stopped 22 of 24 shots in Finland's 6-5 quarterfinal victory over Canada in the world junior championships Saturday. Wild prospect Joel Eriksson Ek scored Sweden's first goal in its 6-0 quarterfinal victory over Slovakia.
• With Parise and Haula banged up and the Wild also playing Sunday, the Wild recalled winger Jordan Schroeder as insurance. He didn't play Saturday.
• Referee Rob Martell officiated his 1,000th and final NHL game.