Mikko Koivu returns to practice for Minnesota; Latendresse back soon too?

Minnesota’s in the midst of a playoff hunt in the Western Conference and despite not having captain Mikko Koivu for the last two and a half weeks and Guillaume Latendresse for most of the season, they’ve been able to hang in there.

News got better today for the Wild and coach Todd Richards when Koivu took to the ice to practice with the team for the first time since breaking his thumb. That update understandably has Wild fans excited but Richards made sure to temper the expectations for when or if they’ll get back on the ice with the team anytime soon.

Michael Russo of the Star Tribune gets the update on the Wild captain.

Koivu won’t play tomorrow and I find it highly doubtful he’ll play in back-to-back games at Nashville and Dallas. But Richards said Vancouver or San Jose is an option. He’ll come on the road trip to skate at the morning skates and two scheduled practices (one in Vancouver, one in San Jose).

But Koivu is still having trouble gripping his stick and has not been cleared for battle drills yet. He is definitely not completely healed, but it’s clear that he’ll be willing to return when he can grip that stick well enough to shoot, pass, take faceoffs.

Getting Koivu back in the lineup is huge for the team as they’ll need him, they’re top center, if they want to make the playoffs and then try to make some noise during them. He’s key for them on offense and as a defender as well. There’s a reason that he’s one of the more underrated stars in the league.

As for the long absent power forward Latendresse, he too is getting closer to getting back and as Russo finds out there’s a few reasons why he’s a bit hesitant to jump into the mix too soon.

Asked if he feels pressure to return with the team fighting for the playoffs, he said: “No. I think that’s the good thing about the organization. They respect the players before the team. They want to make sure you’re 100 percent when you come back and that you can actually help the team.

“Second of all, it’s for my future, too. It wouldn’t be good for me to come back two weeks [early] and miss the rest of year and maybe next year, too.”

If the Wild were able to get Latendresse back into the lineup and get his added physical ability and scoring touch, the Wild with Niklas Backstrom playing well in goal become a much more dangerous team to potentially meet in the playoffs. After all, with Koivu out they’ve seen Martin Havlat and Brent Burns take over as the team’s consistent offensive threats. Throwing Koivu back into the mix and Latendresse in there with the rest of them makes them a lot more intriguing.

PHT Morning Skate: Joel Armia scored an amazing shorthanded goal you’ll have to see to believe

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Joel Armia has developed into a very useful player for the Winnipeg Jets, and on Tuesday night, he scored an incredible end-to-end goal that you won’t want to miss. He fought off one New Jersey Devil then got around two others before scoring this beautiful shorthanded goal. (Top)

–The Score breaks down the best “bang for your buck” contracts on each Canadian team. It’s not shocking to see Senators goalie Mike Condon on this list. The second-year netminder has been with three teams this season, but he’s come through in a big way for the Senators, and he only makes $575,000. (The Score)

–The ESPN Hockey writers put together a list of what they think the Vegas Golden Knights roster is going to look like after the expansion draft. Some well-known names like Andrew Cogliano, Jonas Brodin, Mikkel Boedker, Tomas Plekanec, Jonathan Marchessault, Carl Hagelin and Jakob Silfverberg all made the list. (ESPN)

–Elliotte Friedman’s “30 Thoughts” blog touched on some advice David Poile had for the Golden Knights now that the Oakland Raiders will be moving to Vegas. “You have to do your own thing. We created our ‘Predator Way.’ The Smashville idea and name. In-game entertainment fitting the market. Those things worked.” Friedman also wrote about Ken Hitchcock possibly returning to Dallas, and much more. (Sportsnet)

–Brampton Thunder forward Laura Stacey is the great-granddaughter of hall-of-fame defenseman King Clancy. Recently, Stacey decided she wanted to do a little digging into her great-grandfather’s career, and it really allowed her to get an appreciation for everything he accomplished. “Now I understand how hard he worked, how passionate and determined he was to be the best. Yes, it was a different era, but I can only imagine how hard he had to work to get where he was. As I get older, it makes it more special in that I know more the kind of guy he was.” (Canadian Press)

–The Montreal Canadiens have had some incredible defensemen come through their organization, but last night, Andrei Markov was able to reach an impressive milestone. By picking up an assist in a 4-1 win over Dallas, he tied Guy Lapointe for second in points by a defenseman in franchise history. Larry Robinson’s mark is pretty safe.

Rangers punch playoff ticket to wrap up night of clinched spots

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The New York Rangers weren’t ecstatic that Chris Tierney‘s 4-4 goal sent their game to overtime against the San Jose Sharks, but either way, getting beyond regulation punched their ticket to the playoffs on Tuesday night.

For the seventh season in a row, the Rangers are in the NHL’s postseason. They fell to the Sharks 5-4 in overtime, so they haven’t locked down the first wild-card spot in the East … yet. It seems like a matter of time, however.

The Rangers have now made the playoffs in 11 of their last 12 tries, a far cry from the barren stretch when they failed to make the playoffs from 1997-98 through 2003-04 (with the lockout season punctuating the end of that incompetent era).

New York has pivoted from the John Tortorella days to the Vigneault era, and this season has been especially interesting as they reacted to a 2016 first-round loss to the Penguins by instituting a more attacking style. The Metropolitan Division’s greatness has overshadowed, to some extent, how dramatic the improvement has been.

This result seems like a tidy way to discuss Tuesday’s other events.

The drama ends up being low for the Rangers going forward, and while there might be a shortage of life-or-death playoff struggles, the battles for seeding look to be fierce.

Oilers end NHL’s longest playoff drought; Sharks, Ducks also clinch

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There’s something beautiful about the symmetry on Tuesday … unless you’re a Detroit Red Wings fan, maybe.

On the same night that the longest active NHL playoff streak ended at 25 for Detroit, the longest playoff drought concluded when the Edmonton Oilers clinched a postseason spot by beating the Los Angeles Kings 2-1.

The Oilers haven’t reached the playoffs since 2005-06, when Chris Pronger lifted them to Game 7 of the 2006 Stanley Cup Final.

In doing so, other dominoes fell. Both the Anaheim Ducks and San Jose Sharks also punched their tickets to the postseason.

The Sharks, of course, hope to exceed last season’s surprising run to the 2016 Stanley Cup Final.

Meanwhile, the Anaheim Ducks continue their run of strong regular seasons, even as memories of their Cup win start to fade into the distance. All three teams are currently vying for the Pacific Division title.

The Western Conference’s eight teams are dangerously close to being locked into place, as the Nashville Predators, Calgary Flames and St. Louis Blues are all close to looking down their spots as well.

Want the East perspective? Check out this summary of Tuesday’s events from the perspective of the other conference.

Craig Anderson took his blunder hard – probably too hard – in Sens loss

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Members of the Ottawa Senators were quick to defend Craig Anderson following his blunder (see above) in Tuesday’s 3-2 shootout loss to the Philadelphia Flyers, and it’s easy to see why.

It’s not just about his personal struggles, either. When Anderson’s managed to play, he’s been flat-out phenomenal, generating a .927 save percentage that ranks near a Vezina-type level (if he managed to play more than 35 games).

Goaltending has been a huge reason why Ottawa has at least a shot of winning the Atlantic or at least grabbing a round of home-ice advantage, so unlike certain instances where teams shield a goalie’s failures, the defenses are absolutely justified.

Anderson, on the other hand, was very hard on himself.

You have to admire Anderson for taking the blame, even if in very much “hockey player” fashion, he’s not exactly demanding the same sort of credit for his great work this season.