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Wild Try to Extend Win Streak, as Mikael Granlund Returns with the Predators

It didn’t take long for Granlund to get back to St. Paul, and it also didn’t take long for Minnesota to get back to work after beating Calgary on Saturday night.

NHL: Minnesota Wild at Nashville Predators Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

MINNESOTA WILD VS NASHVILLE PREDATORS
6:30PM Central, Xcel Energy Center, St. Paul, Minnesota
TV: NBCSN
Radio: KFAN 100.3 and affiliates
Streaming: NBC Sports app

Man, it feels like we were just here, doesn’t it?

This is a ridiculously quick turnaround for the Wild, who finished Saturday night’s game just before Midnight Central time, then traveled back to Minnesota and arrived… reaaaaaaally late. Being that tonight’s home game is a nationally televised Sunday game, the boys have even been cruelly handed a slightly earlier-than-normal start, just to add to the challenge of quickly recovering for the second half of this back-to-back against two top-flight teams.

The Green ‘n’ Wheats committed highway robbery last night against the top team in the Pacific Division, ending Calgary’s seven-game win streak and extending their own streak to five. Tonight, they’ll hope to commit a similar level of larceny as Mikael Granlund skates into the X for his LONG awaited return to the State of Hockey after being traded… well… earlier this week.

Despite the streak, Minnesota remains in an absolute dogfight for the last wild card spot, and this is going to be another tough test against a formidable Nashville team, against whom the Wild plays its next two contests. That said, good things seem to be happening in the Ryan Donato Age (that’s what we’re calling it at this point, right?), so let’s play the game and see what happens.

NASHVILLE PREDATORS

I don’t know if you all heard, but the Predators made a couple trades at Monday’s deadline, adding a certain playmaking Finn to their top six. It will definitely be weird to see Granlund sporting the heinous yellow and white jersey of the Predators this evening on #OurIce, where we watched him play for seven seasons, before Paul Fenton sent him packing. In 461 career games with Minnesota, Granlund scored 93 goals and 224 assists. One would anticipate a warm welcome back to St. Paul tonight.

Nashville GM David Poile didn’t rest at adding Granlund to help improve his squad for a potentially long playoff run. On the contrary, he acquired another huge piece by sending Ryan Hartman and a conditional fourth-round draft pick to Chuck Fletcher’s Flyers for bruising-but-skilled forward Wayne Simmonds. Simmonds is exactly the kind of guy you want for the playoffs, a tough-as-nails player that contributes offensively. Simmonds is reunited with coach Peter Laviolette, under whom he played when he first became a Flyer during the 2011-2012 season. Simmonds had 16 goals and 11 assists for Philadelphia this year, but has not yet recorded a point in two games with the Predators.

As for players that have been with Nashville throughout the season, the usual suspects—guys like Ryan Johansen, Viktor Arvidsson, and Filip Forsberg—have done the heavy lifting up front. But it’s the blueline that has really been the motor for this team, as Roman Josi (14 goals, 37 assists, 51 points) and Mattias Ekholm (8-34=42) have both been having an outstanding season.

Losers of three of their last four, Nashville has officially dropped to a point behind Winnipeg in the Central Division standings, and the Jets have three games in hand.

STORYLINES

While the legend of Ryan Donato continues to grow—the youngster now has seven points in five games with Minnesota, and the Wild have yet to lose with him on the roster—and the rest of the youth movement continues to… just… work, a few veterans have also figured it out. Jason Zucker and Eric Staal were co-chairmen of the “Snakebite Club” for the better part of a month leading up to the trade deadline, as both of their names churned through the rumor mill. But each of them scored just before the deadline passed, then Zucker narrowly escaped a trade and Staal re-signed for two more seasons.

You can see it in the demeanor of both players now that a weight has been lifted off their shoulders, because they’re suddenly playing and shooting with confidence again. Saturday in Calgary, Zucker made a great play behind the net to set up Staal in the slot, and Staal didn’t hesitate. He just ripped it home, exactly as we’ve come to expect from him throughout his impressive tenure in the State of Hockey, during which he’s played on one of the best value contracts in all of sports. And to think… there were people in the Wild Twittersphere who were upset that Minnesota had re-signed him for another bargain of a deal. Both Zucker and Staal are contributing again, and will certainly be huge factors down the stretch if the Wild are to make the playoffs.

The other veteran that has figured it out is Devan Dubnyk. It’s no coincidence that when Dubnyk is struggling, the team tends to struggle, because Minnesota doesn’t have a second netminder that is capable of stopping the bleeding when things start to compound. Dubnyk was lights out last night in Calgary, and with 35 saves on 37 shots, absolutely earned the “first star” honors. With a such a short period of time between games, tonight is a classic situation where Alex Stalock should be the starter. But there is a general theory in hockey that you let a hot goalie carry you when you can, and right now Dubnyk is red hot. Bold prediction (and it’s really just a guess): Dubnyk gets the nod again tonight.

INJURIES

After taking a puck off the skate in Winnipeg on Tuesday, Zach Parise sat out Saturday’s game in Calgary. The Wild Twitter account and Michael Russo of The Athletic have expressed hope that he’ll return tonight, but we’ll see. Still no Mikko Koivu or Matt Dumba (obvi), and still no Victor Rask.

According to Rotoworld, Nashville is without Dan Hamhuis, Zac Rinaldo, Craig Smith, and Mikka Salomaki.

The Gamethread will post at 6PM Central. Below are the projected lineups, thanks to DailyFaceoff.com.