If the Wild plans on knocking off the St. Louis Blues in the first round of the playoffs, trying to figure out a way to shut down superstar Vladimir Tarasenko would be a start.
One key could be Erik Haula, the center who recently has taken a stab at left wing and was at that spot during Monday’s practice on a line with Mikko Koivu and Mikael Granlund.
It’s a good bet coach Bruce Boudreau will try to get Koivu out against the Blues’ top line, especially when he’ll have last change at home.
“I’m hoping what it does for me is balance out all three lines,” Boudreau said. “I think all three lines can check that line or should be able to, so I’m not as worried about the matchups when you have three lines that can go like that. If we were on the road, it might be a little different.”
The two other lines he’s referring to from Monday’s practice were Nino Niederreiter-Eric Staal-Zach Parise and Jason Zucker-Martin Hanzal-Charlie Coyle.
Haula, used in 2014 by Mike Yeo, now Blues coach, to shadow Nathan MacKinnon at home in Minnesota’s eventual series win over Colorado, looked destined a month ago to be fourth-line center.
But with Joel Eriksson Ek back from Sweden, Boudreau learned in the past few weeks it might be more beneficial for Haula to play wing so he can get more ice time.
“It’s nice first that I got an opportunity,” Haula said. “I wanted to take advantage of that. I know how that goes and have been in that position before. It’s nice that I was rewarded. I’m happy. All I want to do is help this team win and play the game. Now it starts. Now it really matters.
“Obviously things change quickly and probably things will change throughout the course of the playoffs, like they always do. But I’m excited to play on that line.”
Tarasenko scored 39 goals this season, and his 99 even-strength goals since 2014-15 are most in the NHL.
“He’s one of those guys that needs half a second and the puck’s off his stick,” Haula said. “You see all his highlights, he scores with just a plain wrist shot from far, so you can’t really give him any time and space.”
Yeo said of Tarasenko: “He’s going to get checked really hard, and there’s going to be a huge focus on him, as far as the matchups that they have. There are not going to be a lot of gifts for him, so to speak. This is going to be a real tough challenge for Vladi.”
With Game 3 at 2 p.m. Sunday and Game 4 not until Wednesday night at 8:30, the Wild will return to Minnesota after Game 3 to practice Monday and Tuesday.
“A lot of down time, I think, with an afternoon game,” Boudreau said of the decision to leave St. Louis between Games 3 and 4. “If it was an 8:30 game on Sunday night, I think it might be a different story. But 2 o’clock game and not playing ’til Wednesday, I think the guys would, A) like to be in their own confines, their own bed and everything, and B) if there’s things we have to work on that aren’t going right in the first three games, we’ll do it without anybody seeing us.”
Asked how odd it is to have one game in a five-day span and two two-day breaks, Boudreau said: “It’s the same for both teams. Obviously I don’t think it’s a perfect world situation, playing at 8:30s and stuff like that. But, hey, we’re in the playoffs so we could play at midnight. We don’t care.”
The breaks in the series could enable Blues center Paul Stastny, out because of a lower-body injury, to return.
The Wild signed Minnesota Duluth senior defenseman Carson Soucy, 22, to his two-year, entry-level deal starting next season. He’ll play with Iowa of the AHL the last three games of the season on an amateur tryout.
The 6-4 Soucy, a, 2013 fifth-round draft pick, had 47 points and 216 penalty minutes in 147 games with the Bulldogs.
• Defenseman Victor Bartley, who missed the season because of a torn triceps suffered in an exhibition game, returned from Iowa, where he had been rehabbing. He practiced Monday alongside Nate Prosser and will provide depth in the playoffs.
• There will be no NBC Sports Network local blackout during the first round, so Games 1, 2 and 4 can be seen on both NBC Sports Network and Fox Sports North. Game 3 is exclusive to NBC, while the TV coverage for Games 5, 6 and 7 — if necessary — hasn’t been announced.
• The Wild will wear its green third jerseys during all playoff home games.
• In the latest Bovada odds, the Wild is tied with Pittsburgh with the third-best odds to win the Stanley Cup (8/1). Chicago is the 4/1 favorite, Washington 9/2. The Wild is 4/1 to win the Western Conference.