With injuries sapping its lineup throughout the season, the Wild has had plenty of practice handling adversity.
And that perseverance is about to be tested again, as the team will be without defenseman Jared Spurgeon for at least a month after he suffered a partial tear of his right hamstring.
“It’s nothing new,” coach Bruce Boudreau said. “No one’s going to cry for us, so we’ve got to go out and get the job done without him.”
The Stanley Cup playoffs begin in four weeks.
Spurgeon was injured early in the third period of Tuesday’s 5-1 loss to the Avalanche after going down awkwardly in the corner of the Wild’s defensive zone at Xcel Energy Center. He appeared to lose an edge and fell into the boards as his legs split apart — a grim-looking sequence, with Spurgeon struggling to get to his feet and getting helped off the ice.
The 28-year-old does not require surgery, and rest will be key. This is the second injury that’s sidelined Spurgeon this season, as he missed nine games in November and December because of a groin issue — part of the Wild’s 118 man-games lost to injury so far.
Upon his return to the lineup, Spurgeon continued to skate as the dependable defenseman who’s become a vital anchor on the Wild’s blue line. Aside from averaging the second-most ice time on the team at 24 minutes, 32 seconds, he chipped in nine goals in 61 games and racked up 37 points, 13 of which came on the power play.His work ethic and professionalism have also been a model of what it takes to discover longevity in the NHL because it helps fuel a team’s success.
“In meetings, he looks you in the eye and he’ll go out and practice what you’re asking him to do,” Boudreau said.
“He practices the right way. He does the right things that you’re asking him to do in a game all the time, and those guys don’t come along every day. There’s more talented players I’m sure in the world than him, but he pays attention to detail and does what the coaches ask him all the time.”
During Spurgeon’s previous absence, the defense held up, going 6-3. The unit also rallied while defenseman Jonas Brodin healed a fractured left hand last month, banking 14 points during the nine games Brodin missed.
But losing a top-pairing defenseman in March while the Wild is still jostling for a playoff position is tough. After the loss to the Avalanche, the Wild remained three points ahead of the Stars for the third seed in the Central Division but the win lifted Colorado to just three points back of the team. The Wild resumes play Friday in Vegas, the start of a back-to-back on the road that wraps up Saturday in Arizona.
“The timing isn’t great,” Boudreau said of Spurgeon’s injury. “With the toughness of our schedule that’s coming up and where we are in the playoff push, we’d certainly love to have Jared Spurgeon with us. There’s no doubt about that. But he’s not, and we’re not going to use it as an excuse.”
Reinforcements have been identified; the Wild recalled forward Zack Mitchell and defenseman Ryan Murphy from the American Hockey League Wednesday.
Mitchell, 25, logged three goals and five points in 21 games with the Wild and had 14 goals and 28 points in 33 games with Iowa, while Murphy — who was added to the mix when Spurgeon was injured the first time — had a goal and an assist in nine Wild games. The 24-year-old scored four times and accrued 28 points in 48 Iowa games.
With Spurgeon out, the Wild could also shift Jonas Brodin to the right side to help fill Spurgeon’s void. But tapping into the pipeline to the minors previously has helped, with rookie Nick Seeler turning a call-up while Brodin was injured into a regular role.
“I’ve played a lot of years in the minors, and when they called me, I always thought of it as a good opportunity and it was up to me to make the most of it,” Boudreau said. “I played, for the most part, better than I was capable of when I first got called up. So I expect guys that want to have this job, the NHL job, the permanent job rather than the American League job, they’ll give it everything they’ve got.”
The Wild is working on the contract situation of prospect Louis Belpedio, who recently finished his senior season at Miami.
Drafted in the third round 80th overall by the Wild in 2014, the 21-year-old defenseman scored nine goals and racked up 30 points in 37 games for the RedHawks in 2017-18.