With end of the regular season looming like a final exam, the games have gotten harder, while the math to determine Stanley Cup Playoff combatants has gotten easier. Tonight, the equation is simple for the Minnesota Wild: win and you’re in.
The Wild skates in its final home game of the season hosting Central Division rival, the Winnipeg Jets. With a regulation or overtime win, Minnesota clinches a berth in the postseason, while knocking Winnipeg down a peg in the Western Conference standings ladder.
At this point of the season, four days between games seems like an extended vacation. Tonight, the Minnesota Wild returns from its spring break to host the team atop the Eastern Conference standings, the New York Rangers.
Minnesota wants to jump right back into the swing of things against the potent Rangers. They’ll have rested legs coming out of the gate.
During a long hockey season, living in hotel rooms on the road can become monotonous. Occasionally to spice things up, players pull pranks on unsuspecting teammates.
The leaner is one of the most infamous hockey pranks on the road. The gag is to fill an ice bucket up with water, lean it up against an unsuspicious teammate’s hotel room door at an angle, knock and run down the hallway. When the player opens the door, a small amount of water dumps from the bucket into his entryway and the pranksters laugh at the inevitable swear words that follow.
The following story is of a few bored junior players and one overanxious leaner. Don’t try this at home, kids.
After an optional day for the Minnesota Wild didn’t see too much action at Xcel Energy Center, the ice was packed with players as the club reconvened for a full practice today.
Forwards Matt Cooke and Kyle Brodziak rejoined the squad for an intense practice that put the team through the paces, working on its systems, offensive and defensive transition, special teams and a short skate to wrap things up.
For Cooke, it’s been a long road to recovery. The forward underwent sports hernia surgery and has been out since Feb. 6, missing 27 games.
“It’s been tough,” Cooke said. “I went such a long time without missing games to injury and I’ve had two different injuries this year and not small ones. It’s been frustrating, but it’s been a lot easier having the team winning.”
Growing up in Finland, brothers Mikael and Markus Granlund had a spirited sibling rivalry, be it on the ice or in a fun summer round of bocce ball. If you watched Mikael’s Becoming Wild episode last season, you saw the brothers fiercely competing in a simple game of posts. Tonight, that competition will carry over to the highest level of the sport, with the brothers meeting for the second time in the National Hockey League, as Mikael’s Wild hosts Markus’ Calgary Flames at Xcel Energy Center.
In the BW episode, Markus won and Mikael had the chore of picking the pucks off the ice. However, in their first NHL meeting on March 3, 2013 last season, Mikael had bragging rights, leading Minnesota to a 3-2 victory with two assists.
Thomas Vanek didn’t much care for the old Nassau Coliseum, that is, until he was traded to the New York Islanders last season. After playing on Long Island, the wing developed an affinity for the old barn.
“This is a building I didn’t like coming to, but once I was here, it is one of my favorite buildings now,” Vanek said. “I think the fans are great, the building gets loud.”
Unless the Wild and Islanders meet in the Stanley Cup Final, this will be the final time Vanek and the Wild will skate in the Coliseum. The Isles will move to Brooklyn next season and play at the Barclay Center.
For some, this might be an enticing move, to be in one of New York City’s Five Boroughs. However, Vanek said he’d rather have the team stay in Long Island. After acquiring the forward last season from the Buffalo Sabres, the club offered him a contract extension. The move to Brooklyn factored in on his decision to test free agency.
“I thought about it long and hard, but there were two factors,” Vanek said. “One was the summer, I made a choice that I really wanted to go to free agency. The one thing I didn’t like was the move to Brooklyn. I think that if the rink was built here on the Island, where it should be, there’s a good chance I’d still be here.”
The forward said that he knows Islanders General Manager Garth Snow gave up a lot to acquire him, so he’s glad to see the team doing well and on its way to the playoffs. The Islanders currently sit second in the Metropolitan Division in the East.
“For them to be in the playoffs and doing well, it makes it a little easier and better,” Vanek said.
The 31-year-old is riding a season team-high, eight-game point streak. After a goal and assist last night in Toronto, Vanek is now second on the team in scoring with 49 points (19-30=49).
Brodziak Out, Schroeder In
Forward Kyle Brodziak will come out of the lineup tonight, feeling upper-body tightness after his fight with Toronto Maple Leafs defenseman Dion Phaneuf last night.
Wild Head Coach Mike Yeo said the wing should be fine for Friday, when the club returns home and hosts the Calgary Flames. Minnesota’s bench boss still thinks Brodziak stepping in after Phaneuf leveled Erik Haula and followed it up with a two-hand chop to Jared Spurgeon was the right thing to do.
“Obviously we wish he was in the lineup tonight,” Yeo said. “But those types of things are things that you have to do for your teammates. He’s sending a pretty good message to our group there.”
With Brodziak out, Jordan Schroeder will enter the lineup for the first time since March 6. The speedy wing has seven points (3-4=7) in 18 games this season.
Dubnyk Starts, Again
After a 35-save win against the Leafs, Devan Dubnyk will be in goal yet again for Minnesota. (Copy and paste with a number change) He’s started all 32 games with the Wild since being acquired by the Arizona Coyotes.
For Minnesota, Dubnyk starting is non-story, but the question is still asked in every media scrum. Yeo had a drop-the-mic line when asked if he’s worried about starting the netminder game after game (much to the delight of the Lighthouse and rest of the media).
“I worry about not starting him.”
Boom. Scrum over.
With the spring temperatures dropping back down in the State of Hockey, the Minnesota Wild looks to stay hot on the road. The Wild has been turning typically hostile environments into tranquil-as-a-summer-day atmospheres on the road of late. Winners of a franchise-best eight straight road games, the club again will look to quiet one of the rowdiest crowds in the National Hockey League, the Air Canada Centre in Toronto, tonight against the Maple Leafs.
Despite the variation in buildings, cities and opponents, there has been one constant for Minnesota since Jan. 15: between the pipes. Goaltender Devan Dubnyk has started every contest since coming to the Wild from the Arizona Coyotes. The story of Dubnyk’s arrival and the coinciding Wild rise is as worn as old pair of jeans. However, with the Leafs struggling and the Toronto media hungry for a fresh story, the netminder held court for a gaggle of cameras and microphones.
With the WCHA Playoffs coming to Xcel Energy Center this weekend, the Minnesota Wild was forced to take a mini road trip for today’s practice. The club skated at Braemar Arena in Edina before returning to Saint Paul tomorrow to host Central Division rival, the St. Louis Blues.
Defenseman Marco Scandella will make his return against the Blues. The 25-year-old has missed nine games with an upper-body injury.
“We’ve done a pretty good job battling through some tough games without him, but he’s a real important player for our team and makes a big difference when he’s in the lineup,” Wild Head Coach Mike Yeo said. “He’s coming back and jumping right into it, it will be a tough test for him tomorrow.”
The Minnesota Wild skates to filibuster one of the National Hockey League’s most dangerous duos tonight at Xcel Energy Center. The Wild faces the League’s leading goal scorer, Alex Ovechkin, and his running mate, Nicklas Backstrom, and the Washington Capitals.
Two weeks ago the Wild earned a 2-1 victory in D.C., while the Caps were without Ovechkin. This year, the 29-year-old is having an MVP-caliber season, leading the League in goals (45) and tied for second in points with Backstrom (71) and Pittsburgh’s Sidney Crosby.
Defenseman Matt Dumba’s shot is a low-flying projectile, igniting the red light seven times this season, none bigger than his overtime winner last night against the Nashville Predators.