It’s Minnesota Wild Day at PHT

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Throughout the month of August, PHT will be dedicating a day to all 30 NHL clubs. Today’s team? The Minnesota Wild.

Ever since the Minnesota Wild locked up Zach Parise and Ryan Suter to matching 13-year, $98 million deals things have slowly improved only to see their fate end the same way in the playoffs.

Two seasons ago, they stole their way in as the seventh seed in the West and got the bum’s rush out in the first round in five games by the Chicago Blackhawks. Last season, things got a bit better as they vanquished the Colorado Avalanche in seven games in the first round to earn a rematch with the Blackhawks. Things improved slightly as they bowed out in six games.

It’s that steady improvement in the face of difficult situations that gives fans in Minnesota hope for even more improvement.

The Wild saw injuries befall just about everyone they put in goal. Niklas Backstrom and Josh Harding started the year as the tandem and while Backstrom dealt with nagging injuries, Harding was brilliant. That stellar play was submarined by his struggles with his medication while playing with Multiple Sclerosis.

By the time the playoffs rolled around, it was Ilya Bryzgalov and Darcy Kuemper holding down the fort with Bryzgalov standing tall while helping beat the Avs. If you predicted that would happen before the season, let’s hope you’re sitting on the beach relaxing as a new millionaire.

If there’s truly a reason for Wild fans to be excited about the years to come, it’s thanks to the emergence of a few key young forwards. Mikael Granlund, Charlie Coyle, and Nino Niederreiter all had solid regular season play followed by flashes of brilliance in the postseason. Adding them to the mix with Parise, Mikko Koivu, and Jason Pominville helps give the Wild a very gifted set of forwards.

Things weren’t so bad on the blue line either. Suter logged an incredible number of minutes and former Calder Trophy finalist Jonas Brodin had a solid season, although seemingly not as strong as his rookie campaign. Jared Spurgeon and Marco Scandella stepped up their play to help give their blue line a boost. They’ll need to be that much better next season as the Central Division and Western Conference figures to be brutally difficult once again.

Offseason recap

Minnesota’s summer was virtually too easy to predict. After lots of rumors and speculation, Thomas Vanek inked a three-year, $19.5 million deal to go back to his American home. After playing college hockey at the University of Minnesota and always having a home in the state, it seemed inevitable he’d go back as a free agent. Even after a less-than impressive turn in the playoffs with the Montreal Canadiens didn’t scare the Wild away and they may be able to get a steal of sorts because of it.

With Vanek in the fold, they parted ways with Dany Heatley whose contract expired. He and defenseman Clayton Stoner both landed in Anaheim while they brought back Justin Falk who had been with the New York Rangers.

They also added former Vancouver Canucks forward, and Golden Gophers standout, Jordan Schroeder. There’s never not a homecoming of some sorts in the State of Hockey, but it’s Vanek who comes away as the prize.

Stars’ Stephen Johns activated after missing almost 22 months

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ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — The Dallas Stars activated Stephen Johns before their game Saturday night in Minnesota, clearing the way for the defenseman’s first game in almost 22 months.

Forward Radek Faksa was placed on injured reserve to make room for Johns on the active roster.

Johns has been out since late in the 2017-18 season because of post-traumatic headaches. The Stars have said the condition isn’t related to concussions.

The 27-year-old Johns hasn’t played since March 29, 2018, at the Wild. It was the last of a career-high 75 games in his third NHL season. Johns missed the last five games that year before sitting out all of last season as headaches persisted.

He played two games on a conditioning assignment with the Texas Stars of the AHL before rejoining Dallas on Thursday.

The return of Johns could coincide with the Stars’ first game without defenseman Miro Heiskanen. The 20-year-old standout left Thursday’s loss to Buffalo with an upper-body injury.

Johns made his debut for Dallas late in the 2014-15 season and played in all 13 of the team’s playoff games as a rookie. He has 13 goals, 15 assists and 306 blocked shots in 150 career regular-season games.

Panthers down another goalie, injured Driedger to miss weeks

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SUNRISE, Fla. (AP) — Florida goalie Chris Driedger will miss several weeks with what’s believed to be a groin injury, the latest health issue at that position for the Panthers.

The Panthers announced the diagnosis Saturday, calling it a lower-body injury.

Driedger was hurt midway through the first period of the Panthers’ 4-3 win over the Los Angeles Kings on Thursday. He is 5-2-0 in nine appearances for Florida this season, with a 2.48 GAA.

The Panthers have also been without goalie Sergei Bobrovsky for much of January while he recovers from an upper-body injury.

Florida begins a stretch of six consecutive road games Saturday in Detroit. That six-game run also includes the All-Star break and the Panthers’ bye week.

The Buzzer: Cirelli, Lightning cruise past Jets; Crosby tallies OT winner

Anthony Cirelli #71 of the Tampa Bay Lightning
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Three Stars

1) Anthony Cirelli, Tampa Bay Lightning

Cirelli recorded his first NHL hat trick as the Lightning steamrolled the Winnipeg Jets Friday evening. The 22-year-old scored twice in the opening period as the Bolts jumped out to a 3-0 lead and never looked back. Cirelli hammered a feed from Ondrej Palat 9:27 into the game and then converted a nifty forehand-backhand maneuver to close out the first 20 minutes. Cirelli would complete the hat trick midway through the third period.

2) Evgeni Malkin, Pittsburgh Penguins

Malkin recorded two power-play assists to set up Pittsburgh’s two goals in its 2-1 win against the Detroit Red Wings. Sidney Crosby has received a lot of attention since returning from a 28-game absence earlier this week and added the game-winning goal Friday. However, it was Malkin who looked off the defender and delivered a perfect pass to set up the Penguins captain. Malkin has recorded 10 points in the previous six games.

3) Nikita Kucherov, Tampa Bay Lightning

The 26-year-old winger scored twice in Tampa Bay’s 7-1 win. Cirelli and Kucherov alternated goals as Tampa Bay jumped out to a 4-0 lead, including three in the opening period. Kucherov buried two tap-in opportunities to record goals 21 and 22 on the season. The Russian winger has five goals in his previous three games and the Lightning improved to 12-2-0 in the previous 14 games.

Highlights of the Night

Crosby extended his goal-scoring streak to three games when he buried a pretty feed from Malkin to propel the Penguins in overtime.

Sam Steel fired the OT winner after Andrei Svechnikov‘s costly turnover.

Stats of the Night

Scores

Pittsburgh Penguins 2, Detroit Red Wings 1 (OT)

Anaheim Ducks 2, Carolina Hurricanes 1 (OT)

Tampa Bay Lightning 7, Winnipeg Jets 1

NHL ALL-STAR GAME COVERAGE:
• All-Star Game rosters
• Rosters for Elite Women’s 3-on-3 Revealed
• Pass or Fail: 2020 All-Star Game jerseys
• Alex Ovechkin will not play in 2020 All-Star Game
• NHL Skills Competition to feature women’s 3-on-3, pucks shot from stands

Scott Charles is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @ScottMCharles.

Predators’ Arvidsson fined $2,000 under NHL diving policy

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NEW YORK (AP) — Nashville Predators forward Viktor Arvidsson has been fined $2,000 by the NHL under the league’s rules regarding diving and embellishment.

NHL Rule 64 was designed to penalize players who repeatedly dive and embellish in an attempt to draw penalties. A player gets a warning for a first citation and a $2,000 fine for the second citation.

League officials said Arvidsson received a warning following an incident Dec. 27 against Pittsburgh. His second citation occurred during an incident in the first period of a Jan. 7 game with Boston that resulted in coincidental minor penalties on Arvidsson and Bruins forward Brad Marchand.

Fine proceeds go to the players’ emergency assistance fund.