ST. PAUL, Minn. — For his 29th birthday, Nate Prosser is buying family and friends playoff tickets.
"Doesn’t sound right, but yeah I do," said Prosser of buying tickets.
Prosser is getting a pretty good present himself. The Wild defenseman will join the Thursday’s lineup as Minnesota tries to stay alive in the playoffs.
After playing 10 postseason games for the Wild last year, Prosser will be in the lineup for the first time in the playoffs this season with Minnesota facing an elimination game at home Thursday against the Chicago Blackhawks.
"It’s at an all-time high," Prosser said of his anticipation for Thursday’s game. "How can you beat this? At home, in front of my family and friends at the Xcel playing against the Blackhawks. You can’t beat that, you can’t even write that up. On top of that, it’s my birthday today. So it all kind of boiled into one today. I’m really excited for tonight and just want to bring my game."
Prosser is just one change as Wild head coach Mike Yeo tries to find the right mix to beat Chicago. Minnesota has scored one goal in the past two games and is scoreless in the past 150 minutes, 30 seconds.
Erik Haula will re-enter the lineup as the fourth-line center with Matt Cooke and Jordan Schroeder on his wings. Three lines will take a different look with Zach Parise, Mikael Granlund and Jason Pominville staying together.
Charlie Coyle will move from center to wing with Mikko Koivu and Jason Zucker. Kyle Brodziak will center Thomas Vanek and Nino Niederreiter.
"Dice, Bingo balls," quipped Yeo about how he decided on the new look. "Obviously you’ve got to make some changes. Charlie is a guy who’s had success with Mikko in the past; big, strong guy, right shot as far as executing through the neutral zone into the offensive zone as well and obviously a guy that can get to the net. That’s a line that’s had success for us in the past.
"Obviously that takes him out of center position, but the way Brodzy played last game, there’s no reason why he can’t go in there and do a lot of what Charlie was doing. I think Charlie last game too, the way things were going in the faceoff circle was frustrating and was kind of hurting his confidence a little bit in the game too, so that could be part of it."
Coyle has played wing in the past but had settled in at center during the latter portion of the season for Minnesota. Coyle, scoreless in the series against Chicago, had bounced from center to wing for three seasons. He said the transition back to wing should be easier than his moves to center and feels he should be able to find chemistry with Koivu and Zucker immediately, having played with each before.
"I think it should be no problem, we should be clicking right away I think," Coyle said. "And if not, we just keep playing, play hard, play smart, get pucks in deep and play simple. It will eventually come for us and we’ll keep building. But I think we know each other pretty well."
Forwards Chris Stewart and Justin Fontaine are both out for Thursday’s game as they deal with injuries.
"I wasn’t real hopeful he’d be able to play tonight anyway," Yeo said of Stewart. "It’s obviously not as serious as it could be since he’s still considering it. Fonzie, same thing. Getting closer but definitely both are not in tonight."
Yeo wanted to pair Brodziak and Niederreiter with Vanek to create a big line.
"Giving Thomas two bigger bodies, two guys that should be capable of playing down low in the offensive zone, should be capable of moving for him, buying a little ice for him, getting to the net," Yeo said. "And also having the work ethic to hound and recover pucks. I’d like to see that line be effective below the top of the circles. It’s not a team that has given us a lot of free ice from the top of the circles out, so how we play below the top of the circles, how we get down low, how we move our feet down there is going to be important."
Meanwhile, Prosser will take Jordan Leopold’s spot on defense. Prosser hasn’t played since April 11 in the regular-season finale against St. Louis. Prosser played in 63 regular-season games this year with two goals, five assists and 32 penalty minutes.
"It’s not the first time I’ve done this," Prosser said of entering the lineup after time off. "Hopefully I’m just able to find my comfort zone right away and the group of guys will collect me in and there will be a lot of smiles tonight. I’ve just got to be ready to go. I’ll have a good warm up and get my legs going and make sure my head is into it right away."
After being a key member of the defense throughout the season, he has only played three games since March 14. Prosser’s season started with St. Louis, but he put on waivers in October without playing a regular-season game for the Blues.
Prosser had played the previous five seasons for the Wild, who claimed him off waivers.
"It was a bizarre year," Prosser said. "I don’t know if anyone truly knows how weird it was for me. To pack up my things and go down to St. Louis for training camp, then be down there for a month, meet a whole new team, a whole new staff, whole new systems and then all the sudden get a call one day that you’ve been picked up by Minnesota.
"Then coming back and being in the same stall, it’s like nothing ever changed. Some group of guys, same everything; I’m thankful for it. I’m in a good spot. To be able to play (St. Louis) first round and beat them was pretty bizarre as well. Now we’re here against the Blackhawks and I’m able to get in the lineup so I’m pumped up."