His cheeks red, sweat pouring from his forehead, Thomas Vanek fell into his stall and said, “Boy, I’m tired.”
The injured Wild winger had just finished Wednesday morning with his hardest skate since being sidelined because of broken ribs. He hopes the Wild can extend its season long enough for him to return to the lineup, but he’s not quite sure when he’ll be ready.
“I just need time, and there’s not a whole lot of it right now,” Vanek said. “I’ll just keep pushing it and see where it goes.”
Vanek is officially day-to-day. He’s confident he would be ready by the second round of the playoffs and said it’s not impossible he could be back by the end of the Dallas-Wild series. The Stars have a 3-1 lead in the series after a 3-2 victory over the Wild on Wednesday.
But, said Vanek, “It’s just not quite there yet. I’m not just going to go in there because I want to go in there. If I’m going to go in, especially this time of the year, I feel like it’s more my type of game anyway to go in front of the net, get crosschecks, get those ugly tips, and until I’m ready to do that, there’s no point.
“I feel good skating, shooting. I can shoot, but I don’t feel fully comfortable letting it go yet. Again, I feel like I’m getting close, but not quite.”
Vanek was injured March 29 on an uncalled cross-check by Chicago’s Viktor Svedberg.
“To me, it was a dirty play,” Vanek said. “I was in the corner, and tried making my way back to the high slot. The shot got blocked, and you can usually brace yourself a little bit, but I just never saw the [check] coming, and it buckled me.”
Minor league enforcer Kurtis Gabriel played his second consecutive game Wednesday. Interim coach John Torchetti admitted earlier in the day that Monday’s surprise entry of Gabriel for his playoff debut was at the suggestion of General Manager Chuck Fletcher.
“That’s what you want in a GM,” Torchetti said. “You go over situations and he gives his views and then he leaves it up to yourself and then I go over it with the coaches and talk to Chuck again and [assistant GM Brent Flahr].
“I think that’s the great lines of open communication. I think if anyone knows the pulse of the team — I haven’t been here all year for it, but it’s a great suggestion and we trust each other. That’s what it’s all about, and we put him in.”
Zac Dalpe also played a second consecutive game Wednesday, meaning Jarret Stoll and Ryan Carter were scratched again.
“They’re great veteran players. They just have to be ready for next game,” Torchetti said.
In Monday’s game, defenseman Nate Prosser logged 16-plus minutes while Matt Dumba played less than 10.
Torchetti explained Dumba’s ice time by saying it all had to do with matchups. The Wild didn’t want Dumba out against either of Dallas’ top lines, and star captain Jamie Benn was getting double-shifted.
As for Prosser, who blocked four shots, Torchetti said, “He plays playoff hockey all the time. He’s in your face. He’s going to be talking between whistles, physical, boxing out, going to pay the price and block shots.
“To play that role not knowing that you’re going to be in the lineup full-time, you’ve got to be mentally tough. I’ve known him for five years and he’s every bit of that.”
In Wednesday’s game, Dumba played 16:39 and Prosser 12:32.
• Friday’s Game 5 at Dallas will start at 8:30 p.m. (Central) and be televised locally by Fox Sports North.
• Stars center Tyler Seguin, who didn’t make the trip to Minnesota because of a lower-body injury, is resting and not yet skating, GM Jim Nill told the Dallas Morning News.
• Left winger Zach Parise skated on his own again before Wednesday’s morning skate, but Torchetti announced that Parise is “week-to-week.”