Kirill Kaprizov is finally ready to return from a month-long injury, but there's still a gaping hole in the Wild's lineup.
Joel Eriksson Ek suffered a lower-body injury in the 4-1 loss at Pittsburgh on Thursday that'll sideline him week-to-week, a timeline that puts his availability for Game 1 of the playoffs in question.
"With good news comes bad news," Kaprizov said in Russian through an interpreter.
That's been the state of the Wild for weeks now.
Kaprizov was hurt March 8 at Winnipeg, crumpling to the ice and into the splits underneath a check from Jets 6-7 defenseman Logan Stanley.
"The heat of the moment," Kaprizov said of the situation. "Maybe I didn't position myself correctly. Maybe he wanted to play the body a certain way, and I positioned myself incorrectly. It happens."
The winger missed the next 13 games because of a lower-body injury, but the Wild were productive while Kaprizov was rehabbing, "chilling" at home and playing on the computer.
"It wasn't very fun at all," he said. "I've never really had an injury this long in my career. A week, week-and-a-half max up to this point. So, it was definitely tough."
Without Kaprizov, the Wild went 7-3-3, sat atop the Central Division for a week-plus and locked up a playoff spot. Matt Boldy emerged as a 30-goal scorer, and his line with Eriksson Ek and Marcus Johansson jelled so much that they looked primed to draw serious attention from the opposition come playoff time.
"Very excited for the way the team played while I wasn't there," Kaprizov said.
But Eriksson Ek was injured blocking an Evgeni Malkin shot on the penalty kill Thursday.
Oskar Sundqvist also left that game with a lower-body injury; he's considered day-to-day.
Eriksson Ek ranks third on the team in goals with 23, his 38 assists are the second most and he's tied for third in points (61). The center also stands in front of the net on the power play, skates on the first penalty kill unit and is unequivocally the Wild's best defensive forward — responsibilities that only become magnified in the postseason.
"He's a huge part of our hockey club," coach Dean Evason said. "But there's nothing we can do about it now. It's done. We'll hopefully get him back sooner than later. Other people, all of us, have to step up."
If Gustav Nyquist doesn't make his Wild debut on Saturday vs. St. Louis at Xcel Energy Center after coming over in a February trade from Columbus with a shoulder injury, the Wild will play down a forward and go with an extra defenseman.
(Kaprizov isn't returning to offset Eriksson Ek's exit from the lineup; the team decided Thursday morning he would suit up against the Blues.)
"Very happy," said Kaprizov, whose 39 goals and 74 points through 65 games continue to lead the Wild. "Very excited. Looking forward to it."
Eventually, the Wild could beckon a center from the minors and they're leaning towards adding Marco Rossi if they make a call-up.
Sent to the American Hockey League in November after making the team out of training camp and tallying one assist in 16 appearances, Rossi entered action on Friday at a point-per-game pace with 16 goals and 33 assists in 49 games. Iowa will be at Chicago on Saturday, and that's where the Wild face the Blackhawks on Monday.
"He's playing with a lot of pace, a lot of energy," Evason said of the 2020 first-round pick. "Obviously, his vision is fantastic. His play on the power play has been real good. There's a lot of positives.
"His development is moving forward."
For now, the Wild are getting their best player back at a time when they're due for a reset.
After dropping a third consecutive game on Thursday, their longest rut since going 0-3 coming out of the All-Star break in early February, the players held a team meeting. The Wild are third in the division, slotting two points back of Colorado and Dallas with four games left.
"I think that we're going to rebound quickly," Kaprizov said.