For already clinched teams, like the Minnesota Wild, the last few games could be the scariest. If a player takes a stick to the face, an awkward check into the boards, or a blindside hit, the team’s dreams of a Stanley Cup run could end in a snap of a finger. Wild fans know the importance of having certain players in the lineup come playoff time. Just look what happened last postseason.
In the first round of the 2016 Stanley Cup playoffs, the Wild were missing a huge piece. Zach Parise went down with a back injury. The Wild were missing his presence the whole series. They quickly realized, you cannot replace a player like Parise, especially after losing that series.
Even though Parise has not produced his normal numbers this season due to being sick four times this season, he brings the energy, leadership, and toughness every single night. He draws penalties, takes hits to make plays and does the most important thing that not a lot of players can do. That make everyone else around him work harder.
When young guys on the team like Eric Haula or Jordan Schroeder see someone like Parise, the face of the franchise working his tail off, it is contagious. Parise makes Haula and Schroeder think “if he is doing the dirty work, I better start following him” mentality. Players seem refreshed after remembering that mentality. Players are skating faster, hitting harder and checking better after one of Parise’s classic tough shifts.
Last Tuesday night vs. the Washington Capitals, Parise took a brutal stick to the face and got nailed right after. He laid out on center ice of the Xcel Energy Center with 19,188 fans holding their collective breath. Fortunately, Parise was not badly hurt and only sustained a black eye and a minor upper body injury. Wild fans know if Parise goes down, this team does not have a great chance to make a deep run. Head coach Bruce Boudreau quickly realized that.
After seeing Parise go down, Boudreau almost seemed rattled. He quickly announced he would be resting Devan Dubnyk for the next couple of games. As the slumping backup goalie Darcy Kuemper continues to struggle, Boudreau made a move. The Wild called up minor league goalie Alex Stalock from Iowa to start the next two games. Boudreau also gave winger Jason Zucker some rest after missing Saturday’s game vs. the Nashville Predators and Sunday’s game vs the Colorado Avalanche. Boudreau was simply being cautious with his lower-body injury.
Even though Stalock went 1-1, he looked very sharp for the Wild. His ability to play the puck and play poised gives Boudreau something to think about. With the recent poor play of Darcy Keumper, well see who Boudreau picks as the backup goalie headed into the postseason.
As the playoffs are only a week and half away, Boudreau has two options. Option one; rest his key players in the midst of the recent slump, and get them all fresh for round one. Option two; have them fight through this last week of the regular season. Remember Bruce, health is the greatest gift of them all.