The Minnesota Wild held practice today in preparation for tomorrow’s regular season finale with the Nashville Predators and the playoffs that come after.
Sophomore center Mikael Granlund returned to practice after getting injured while making a check on Kings forward Jarret Stoll in Los Angeles back on March 31st. Granlund (head) centered Minnesota’s scratch line of Mike Rupp (four game suspension) and Dany Heatley, and had coaching staff and teammates raving about how sharp he’s looking afterwards. Though he isn’t expected to play against the Preds tomorrow night, there’s no reason to think he won’t be ready by the middle of next week for Game One of the quaterfinals.
When he returns, Granlund is expected to resume his role as No. 2 pivot between Matt Moulson and Jason Pominville. His return to the lineup is huge for a Minnesota Wild team that has beaten or taken points from the last six Stanley Cup champs. In 63 games this season, Granlund is fifth in team scoring with eight goals and 33 assists for 41 points and a negative-3 rating. He has also been a clutch performer off the draw, winning 52.6% of faceoffs taken. If he can just learn to smartly avoid dangerous situations, Granlund will almost assuredly have a long and successful NHL career.
Also returning to the lineup is defenseman Clayton Stoner. After spraining his MCL against the Red Wings on March 22nd, Stoner’s recovery is weeks ahead of schedule. He’ll be paired with Nate Prosser on the bottom pairing. Stoner’s return comes at an ideal time as the suspension to Rupp leaves the team one bruiser short for the first three games of what will likely be an intense, physically-jarring opening round against one of Colorado, Anaheim or St. Louis. With his return, Jonathon Blum looks to be the odd man out unless Wild head coach Mike Yeo opts to play him for Prosser.
The bad news is that third line center Kyle Brodziak is questionable with what has been labeled as “discomfort”. Minnesota’s iron man of the past three seasons, tomorrow may be the first game missed by Brodziak in that span. Yeo doesn’t expect him to miss tomorrow’s finale, but it might not be a bad thing if he does. If the Wild are going to go far in the playoffs, they need healthy players. For all his offensive faults–and, believe me, he has a lot–Brodziak is still one of Minnesota’s top defensive players. Someone has to rein in the Getzlafs, Perrys, Oshies, Landeskogs and MacKinnons. That task will ultimately fall to Brodziak, left winger Matt Cooke and whoever joins them on the right side.
It’s an exciting time for Minnesota. The team has a chance to set the second-best regular season point total in franchise history with a win over Nashville to hit the 100-point mark. In addition, the Wild keeps finding ways to win while the other teams in the Central Division and Western Conference struggle. As the season’s dominant teams like St. Louis and Chicago stumble, deal with injuries to key players and look for answers, Minnesota seems to have found its groove and looks to take its winning ways and turn it into a deep playoff run.
Mike Yeo, his coaching staff and players are clearly doing something right. Let’s see if it pays off.