Of course the State of Hockey would be under a winter storm advisory in April as the Wild continues the push down the regular-season home stretch. Nothing gets you more revved up for meaningful April hockey like brushing off a few inches of fresh powder off a windshield before getting to the rink and posting a Lighthouse.
The Wild held an optional morning skate before hosting the St. Louis Blues tonight. The Wild and Blues are deadlocked in the standings, so tonight’s game takes on the feeling of one of those ginned up terms that coaches and athletes despise: a must win. Of course, every one of the Wild’s remaining nine games will feel like a must win, but that is what makes this final month so exciting.
One thing the Wild and bench boss Mike Yeo will try to avoid is getting caught up in the hoopla created by standings watchers (myself included).
“That’s part of the challenge and that’s new for a lot of our group,” Yeo said to the media after morning skate. “Having said that, we’re lucky to have some older players and veteran players, who are obviously key guys for us, that have been part of these types of runs and playing games at this time of year.”
One of those veteran leaders who will be out again tonight is Matt Cullen. Yeo said that he skated today, but not with the team, and will continue to be evaluated as time goes on. There is no timetable set for his return.
Returning to the lineup is defenseman Tom Gilbert. After being a healthy scratch for two games, Gilbert will replace Nate Prosser on the blue line. He’ll be paired with Justin Falk, who spoke to WildTV after practice about matching up with the Blues.
The forward lines will remain the same as Tuesday’s 1-0 loss to the Chicago Blackhawks. That includes Kyle Brodziak’s line with Charlie Coyle and Cal Clutterbuck. The trio is trying to find some chemistry, having only played two games and one practice together. Yesterday of course, the Wild held its first full team practice at home in a blue moon and Brodziak spoke to WildTV about the importance of playing and practicing together to try and find that spark.
Niklas Backstrom will get the nod in net again tonight. The netminder has been hot in his last two outings, stopping 54 of 55 shots.
In other State of Hockey news, Xcel Energy Center has a new display at section 106-107 featuring the Minnesota Hockey Youth State Champions in 2012-13. Each team is represented with a sweater, photo and lineup card. The display officially opens on Saturday’s Wild game against Columbus, but you can get a sneak preview tonight.
Just a warning, Wild.com’s game coverage might include some St. Cloud State University updates as the team opens the Frozen Four tonight in Pittsburgh against Quinnipiac. The game is at 7 p.m., same as tonight’s Wild contest against St. Louis, so this is one of those good nights to hit up a pub and watch both games. If you happen to be in the press box, one television in my general area might be devoted to the SCSU game.
Finally, stick tap to the Warners’ Stallions Stars, who advanced to the Gold Cup Finals of the Metro League last night in a stunning, 8-4, victory over some blue team. Now finish the job and I expect to hear about some celly’s like this next Wednesday night at Grumps.