The Minnesota Wild had lost seven of the past nine games heading into their matchup with the Calgary Flames last night. With the return of Matt Cullen was the return of the team’s offense it seems, as Jason Pominville scored twice and captain Mikko Koivu and struggling winger Pierre-Marc Bouchard scored, as well, as the Wild pulled out a 4-3 victory while gaining a precious two points on the road.
Cullen seemed to ignite an offense that had gone stone cold in recent games, and was the main engine on the second line driving Devin Setoguchi, rookie Jason Zucker and Bouchard. Though his only point came as the primary assist on Pominville’s game-winning goal, his presence was felt throughout the Wild lineup. Zucker struggled all night long, but Cullen was right there talking his ear off on the bench with tips on what he should or shouldn’t be doing. Considering how important Cullen is to this team, there probably isn’t a better mentor for the rookie—he’ll be just fine.
The problem is keeping Cullen healthy. Minnesota was 1-4-1 without Cullen in their six games prior to his return. That’s including a whopping three shutout losses. That’s inexcusable for a team fighting for their playoff lives. “It’s been awfully tough watching, and it will be nice to get back in the fight with the guys,” Cullen told reporters prior to the game. “If there’s a side benefit to [time off], it’s a pretty good stretch of rest to be rejuvenated here.”
Minnesota has six games left in the regular season and two more on this road trip. Tonight, the Wild play a young and talented Oilers squad that will be itching to please new management. Last night, Colorado took Columbus the distance before falling in overtime. Minnesota plays the Avalanche in the final game of the season—if the Avs can spoil the Wild’s playoff hopes, they will. The truth is: there are absolutely no easy games. Cully knows this, “We’ve gone through a tough stretch of games. We have seven left here and we have to win a bunch.”
The lower-body injury he was originally diagnosed with typically takes three or four weeks to heal, and Cullen has returned after two—he’s not 100% healthy, you can be sure. Cullen is a quality character guy with plenty of playoff experience, including winning the Cup in 2006 with the Carolina Hurricanes. If Minnesota is going to succeed, they’ll need him to be at his best every step of the way. Fans need him to be at his best every step of the way.
A win by Minnesota tonight would put them at 51 points, four above the playoff bubble. If the Los Angeles Kings beat the San Jose Sharks, Minnesota jumps into fifth place; if Vancouver beats St. Louis, Minnesota remains in 6th regardless of a win against Edmonton or not. You can bet Wild fans across the country will be cheering on the Kings and Canucks in addition to Minnesota tonight.