Jan 4, 2014; Saint Paul, MN, USA; Minnesota Wild goalie Niklas Backstrom (32) makes a save during the second period against the Washington Capitals at Xcel Energy Center. Mandatory Credit: Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports

UPDATED: Minnesota Wild Injury Report: Backstrom, Scandella Good To Go

The Minnesota Wild enter tonight’s matchup with the Phoenix Coyotes on a three-game win streak which is in no small part due to a couple of youngsters–namely winger Nino Niederreiter and rookie goalie Darcy Kuemper.

Drafted 5th overall by the New York Islanders in 2010, Niederreiter would score just two goals and an assist for three points and a negative-30 rating in 64 games on Long Island. The Swiss sensation wouldn’t be recalled from the AHL’s Bridgeport Sound Tigers upon the conclusion of the lockout, though he would score 28 goals and 22 assists for 50 points and a negative-5 rating in 74 games, earning him 2012-13 AHL All-Star honors. His snub by the Isles led to a trade request, and Minnesota would finally get the player they originally wanted to draft in 2010 three years later in return for Cal Clutterbuck and a 2013 third round pick.

So far, the trade has been nothing short of a brilliant move by Wild GM Chuck Fletcher as the talented winger has scored nine goals and thirteen assists for 22 points and a plus-9 rating in 45 games, including three goals and two assists for five points in the past five games. Niederreiter was key in Minnesota’s 2-1 shootout victory against the Los Angeles Kings on the road, scoring the game-tying goal and scoring the only goal in the shootout. Kings fans trickled out of the arena in stunned silence as their team still lost after a 40-17 shot advantage in the game. Of course, that is in large part thanks to the unbelievable play of hulking 6’5″ 205-pound netminder Darcy Kuemper.

The fact that the Kings scored just one goal against the Wild doesn’t reflect the play of Minnesota’s defense in that game. Kuemper was the sacrificial lamb, having to bail out his team with one impressive save after another. In one unbelievable series, Kuemper had to make three or four quick saves in about as many seconds. In the shootout, Kuemps was the second coming of Julie “The Cat” Gaffney, stonewalling all four Kings shooters and coolly flipping the puck onto the ice after a slick glove save on Mike Richards. It’s good that the kid has confidence, because he’ll need it tonight as he looks to make his second straight start for Minnesota.

As key Wild players start dropping like flies, goaltender Niklas Backstrom (abdominal stiffness) and defenseman Marco Scandella (lower body) are added to the list. Top line skaters Zach Parise and Mikko Koivu, top-3 defenseman Jared Spurgeon and No. 1 goalie Josh Harding are already missing significant time on injured reserve, reminiscent of two seasons ago when injury woes dropped the Wild from first in the league in mid-December to drafting 7th overall in the 2012 NHL Entry Draft.

Both injuries appear minor, and Scandella skated in the team’s pregame practice this morning. However, considering Backstrom’s injury history the past two seasons, the team isn’t taking any chances with the best goalie in franchise history, especially with Harding out. That said, head coach Mike Yeo is counting on Kuemper to build upon his success in Tuesday night’s game and play a strong game. There’s no question this severely depleted Wild squad will need him at his very best in a vitally important Western Conference matchup in the desert tonight.

One more tidbit, if Scandella can’t play, 2007 Nashville first rounder Jonathon Blum may make his Minnesota Wild debut. Considering Keith Ballard was benched for half of Tuesday night’s game, he may make his debut anyway depending on what Yeo decides.

UPDATE: According to the Star Tribune’s Michael Russo, Niklas Backstrom could be the man in net tonight.

He also confirms that Jonathon Blum will indeed be making his Wild debut against the Coyotes.

The Minnesota Wild has confirmed that goaltender Niklas Backstrom will be the man between the pipes.

Be sure to check back here after the game for Scott’s recap.

Tags: Darcy Kuemper Jonathon Blum Marco Scandella Niklas Backstrom Nino Niederreiter

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