If you haven't seen it yet, Matt Duchene skated in this morning's practice.
Previously all-but-ruled-out for the series, and ruled-out for Game 5 as recently as yesterday, the talented 23-year-old forward's practice fueled speculation that may end up playing tonight.
This speculation was just shut down as of this writing, as Adrian Dater tweeted:
Duchene will not play tonight— Adrian Dater (@adater) April 26, 2014
But even if he doesn't return tonight, it'll probably be soon.
Matt Duchene suffered an injury on March 31st, spraining his Medial Collateral Ligament (the same ligament that Tyson Barrie injured). If you look at the calendar, a return tonight would have been just a tick ahead of the 4-6 week timetable he was given. Four weeks exactly would put him at a return in Game 6 at Minnesota. With his level of practicing this morning, I'd say it's a safe bet he will return Monday.
So, what does this mean for the Avalanche?
It's potentially a game-changer. MacKinnon has earned all the headlines for being so outstanding as an 18-year-old, and rightfully so. But Duchene has developed into a premiere player in the league, following up last season's 43 point in 47 game effort with a 23-goal, 70 point (in 71 games) season before his MCL injury.
His return allows the Avalanche to run two dangerous lines. The Landeskog-Stastny-MacKinnon line has been excellent this series, but when the Wild have managed to shut them down, there's been little depth to pick up the slack. Duchene allows Ryan O'Reilly to move to wing, which pairs the Avs regular-season leader in goals with their regular-season leader in assists. That will be something to watch out for.
Even when he does return, it is uncertain as to how much his injury will affect him once he is on the ice, as Wes Walz brought up on Twitter:
Matt Duchene on the ice for Avs this am. May play... may also be a liability if back to soon, am skate MUCH different then game situations!— Wes Walz (@walz3737) April 26, 2014
Much easier for a knee to hold up when you know where your headed in am skate as apposed to "reacting" during a NHL game. We will see...— Wes Walz (@walz3737) April 26, 2014
That's not something we will get to know until he's back on the ice. He might have rust. He may not be 100%. But he also may be able to impact the series upon his return. Regardless, the Wild will have to prepare for the threat of his shiftiness, speed, and puck skills.
It's true that Duchene doesn't solve all of the problems with the Avalanche- their defense will still be insanely thin without Tyson Barrie, and Erik Johnson has played poorly throughout this series, exacerbating this issue. But in Games 1 and 2, the Avalanche showed that a thin defense can be compensated for if you can overwhelm the opposition with offense. A healthy Duchene will help them with that, as well as the Power Play, which has dried up, going 1-for-15 in the series.
The return of Duchene increases the possibility that giving away Game 1 will haunt the Wild, as they otherwise would have an opportunity to put them away tonight at the Pepsi Center, potentially rendering a Duchene return moot. But, there is a game tonight. Win that game, and the Wild will be able to match-up against the Avs to their liking, Duchene and all.