It was a light turnout for Sunday morning’s Minnesota Wild optional skate. Goalies Josh Harding and Darcy Kuemper took shots from forwards Charlie Coyle, Mikael Granlund and Jason Zucker and defensemen Nate Prosser, Justin Falk and Brett Clark. Injured second line center Matt Cullen worked on battle drills on the other end of the ice with Assistant Coach Darby Hendrickson.
“We’re getting to the point in the season where you have to be in there,” he said afterwards, having missed six games already with a lower body injury. “So it was a good day to push it a little bit, see how it feels in the morning, how everything is going, But it was definitely a good day. And it’s definitely getting better.”
Cullen, who has potted seven goals and 18 assists for 25 points and a plus-6 rating in 35 games this season, will be flying with the team on their three-game road trip, and may even play in the Wild’s next game in Calgary. “He looked really good,” said Minnesota Wild Head Coach Mike Yeo. “He looked good today. We’ll see how it is tomorrow.”
That said, with seven games to go in the regular season, it’s now or never for the Minnesota Wild as they sit just two points ahead of 9th and 10th place in the Western Conference standings. Five of Minnesota’s remaining games are against Northwest division rivals in the Calgary Flames, Edmonton Oilers and Colorado Avalanche. Edmonton sits just eight points back of 8th place Detroit with 39 points, so Minnesota’s two games against the Oilers are more crucial now than ever. There are no easy wins—Calgary and Colorado may be out of the playoff picture, but they’ve been capable of winning games against big teams and could just as easily play spoiler for Minnesota.
In Cullen’s absence, Minnesota has gone 1-4-1 over that span and the offense has almost completely dried up. His presence on the second line will undoubtedly reignite goal scoring winger Devin Setoguchi and Wild fans are certainly praying it does. With both Pierre-Marc Bouchard and Jason Zucker in the lineup, it’ll be interesting to see who gets the nod on the other side of Cullen. Head Coach Mike Yeo has indicated it will be one of the two.
With Cullen back, and Zenon Konopka nursing a broken foot, my guess is that Kyle Brodziak is bumped down to center the fourth line. If that happens, expect a line of either Bouchard or Zucker to skate alongside Mikael Granlund and one of Jason Pominville or Charlie Coyle. Cal Clutterbuck would likely be moved to fourth line winger with Brodziak and Mike Rupp with Torrey Mitchell sitting in the press box.
Every game is now a must-win game. Yeo needs to find that spark to fire up a water-soaked offense. Is that spark Matt Cullen? It very well could be; anything is possible.