Wild’s Granlund, Kuemper practicing, nearing return

Wild center Mikael Granlund practiced Monday, his second workout in three days after missing Minnesota's final six games of the regular season with an upper-body injury.

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ST. PAUL, Minn. — Mikael Granlund’s words expressed anything but certainty.

His tone, though, was indicative of an excited young man on the verge of his first NHL postseason appearance.

The Wild center practiced again Monday, for the second time in three days after missing Minnesota’s final six games of the regular season with an upper-body injury. Gliding comfortably around the Xcel Energy Center ice, he looked and felt comfortable, he said.

But the second-year pro and his coach wouldn’t come out and confirm Granlund would be in uniform for Thursday night’s Stanley Cup Playoffs opener at Colorado.

They came close, though.

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Coach Mike Yeo answered in the affirmative when asked if Granlund — the team’s No. 5 scorer despite playing in just 63 games this season — was getting continually closer to being game ready. Granlund implored the staff to let him suit up Sunday against Nashville, Yeo said.

"We didn’t let that happen," Yeo said. "We knew that we’d have a couple quality practices here. We don’t want to get too far ahead of ourselves, but he looks good and he feels good.

"We’re not gonna try to play coy about it or anything. We obviously want to get him in the lineup."

Granlund was also somewhat evasive but sounded exuberant when discussing the possibility of coming back.

"Let’s just say today was a good day again," the soft-spoken Finn said. "We’ll see. I felt really good."

Granlund went down March 31 after colliding with Kings center Jarett Stoll in the second period. Since then he hadn’t skated with the team until Saturday.

In his stead, rookie and fellow Finland native Erik Haula filled in superbly, chalking up six points (three goals and three assists) in six games following the injury. If Granlund is able to go Thursday, that’d bump Haula back to the fourth line.

Granlund centered Jason Pominville and Matt Moulson on the second line Monday, while Haula skated between Cody McCormick and Stephan Veilleux with the fourth grouping.

The seventh-seeded Wild will need Granlund’s offensive prowess when it takes on Central Division champion Colorado in the Western Conference. The Avalanche’s young core, highlighted by Calder Memorial Trophy frontrunner Nathan McKinnon, has it ranked fourth in the NHL in scoring at 2.99 goals per game.

One of the ways Minnesota plans to neutralize Colorado’s attack is to maintain puck possession itself. In last year’s 4-1 conference quarterfinal loss to Chicago, the Wild spent far too much time in their own zone with the Blackhawks cycling through.

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They outshot Minnesota 169-139 in the series. "We never had the puck," left winger Zach Parise said.

Granlund’s strength on the forecheck ought to help with that. His 33 assists rank third on the team, and defenses have grown to respect his scoring abilities.

The 5-foot-10, 186-pound 22-year-old isn’t the only youngster on track to return. Rookie goalie Darcy Kuemper practiced Monday for the first time since his own late-March injury.

Posting a 2.43 goals-against average and a .915 save percentage, Kuemper’s been out since March 27 with an upper-body injury. Yeo was pleased to see him stopping pucks Monday but strayed far from anointing him the playoff backup to Ilya Bryzgalov.

Until Kuemper shows he’s healthy enough to play, that job will belong to late-season AHL call-up Jon Curry.

"He had a good day today," Yeo said of Kuemper. "Obviously, the first time he’s had the opportunity to get on with our main group and get a good amount of shots. I thought he looked good, felt good, so that’s a good sign.

"I don’t want to get ahead of ourselves. To me, this was a first step, and we’ll see how things go tomorrow."

Making its fifth all-time playoff appearance and second in a row, the Wild will fly out Wednesday morning to Colorado and practice at Denver University’s Magness Arena.

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