So much for that healthy Wild lineup, which lasted a full two games.
Winger Nino Niederreiter did not participate in Tuesday’s optional morning skate nor warmups for the Wild’s 3-2 overtime loss to Calgary at Xcel Energy Center. A team spokesman confirmed Niederreiter would be out for the next week because of a lower-body injury.
He did practice Monday but sat on the bench during the warm-up skating to start and then left before the conditioning drills to end the session.
Niederreiter missed five games after leaving in the first period Dec. 22 at Florida because of a left foot or ankle injury. He returned Jan. 4 with a hat trick against Buffalo, which combined with Zach Parise’s recovery marked the first time the Wild had been at full strength all season.
Niederreiter also endured a high ankle sprain Oct. 12 at Chicago and missed six games and nearly three weeks because of it.
Feeling the playoff squeeze already
There’s quite the logjam in the Western Conference. Several teams are within a three-point spread hovering around the wild-card spot, including the Wild and the Flames.
Winnipeg (59 points), Nashville (56) and St. Louis (55) are the top three Central Division teams. Vegas (60) leads the Pacific, followed by Los Angeles (53), San Jose (48) and Calgary (48).
Dallas (51) is in the first wild-card spot, leaving the second wild-card position a battle between Calgary/San Jose, Chicago, the Wild (all with 48 points) and Anaheim and Colorado (47).
Wild captain Mikko Koivu said he probably couldn’t remember a time when the playoff race was this tight in January. “It seems that every team is up there, and it’s very close, and one win or one loss takes teams in or out of the playoffs,” Koivu said. “That’s the way it’s going to be all the way to the end. That’s why every game is critical.”
What makes this time of year especially intriguing is the bye weeks. While about half the teams are currently on one, the Wild and the rest take off next week. So stockpiling points now becomes vital.
“We’ve talked about it. This is a big week. It’s a big week visually, I guess,” goalie Devan Dubnyk said Monday. “You don’t want to have to sit there next week and watch teams go past. You want them to be trying to catch up. At the end of the day, we’re in playoff mode now until the end of the season. That’s just the situation it is with how jam-packed the Western Conference is. So whether it’s a bye week or not, every game from here on out is going to be extremely important of us.”
But it seems like no matter the circumstance, NHLers agree points are always at a premium.
“I think that can happen any week from now on,” Calgary forward Garnet Hathaway said before Tuesday’s game. “This road trip before the bye week is huge. We want to gain momentum, and this is the start of the second half tonight. We’re ready to put a charge in and really push for that playoff spot right now.”
Koivu couldn’t stay away for long. While the center missed practice Monday with the flu, he returned in time for morning skate Tuesday.
Koivu said he was feeling “good” after practice.
“It was good to get out there and get the feeling again and feel the puck and be on the skates again,” he said. “That was good. Just get a good meal and a little bit of sleep and be ready to go.”
Wild coach Bruce Boudreau, for one, was happy he wouldn’t have to fill the veteran’s gap.
“It was very important that he comes out of the sick bay and gets playing,” Boudreau said. “But that’s what makes Mikko Mikko.”