Empty seats remain rare inside Xcel Energy Center despite the up-and-down season the Minnesota Wild are having, but Friday night’s visit by the Vegas Golden Knights is certainly not the “big game” everyone is talking about in the Twin Cities this weekend.
With Super Bowl LII set to be played on the other side of the river in Minneapolis on Sunday, and with the Wild next heading to road games in Dallas on Saturday and St. Louis on Tuesday, there was some talk that the team would stay on the road and avoid the football hype and traffic. But coach Bruce Boudreau and company will be home in Minnesota on Sunday.
“You don’t get a chance to have the Super Bowl in your city every day, and I’m sure there are one or two (players) who bought tickets, so I’d hate for them not to be able to go if they mortgaged their house on the Super Bowl,” Boudreau said.
The coach also admitted that he wasn’t paying the sky-high prices to be in attendance on Sunday.
“I wouldn’t drop eight grand to see the Pope,” he joked.
The best news for Minnesota on Friday is the expected return of forward Nino Niederreiter, who missed most of January with a lower-body injury.
“I’m just excited to be back,” Niederreiter said after practice this week. “All of this time skating by myself was getting a little lonely so it’s great to have some guys out there and play hockey again.”
The Wild (27-18-5) will host a Vegas team about which the greater NHL is slowly realizing there’s no fluke at work here. The Knights come to Minnesota having won four of their last five, and leading the Western Conference.
The come-from-behind 3-2 overtime victory over the Central-leading Jets on Thursday came via David Perron netting his 13th goal of the season in the extra session, which gave Vegas 34 wins, the most by an expansion team in NHL history.
And keep in mind, there are more than two months of the season left to play. A key to the success, according to some Knights, is playing with a chip on their collective shoulders, on a team constructed of players cast off from other teams.
“We’re moving forward and playing with something to prove,” said Knights forward James Neal, who has 22 goals. “Any time you get unprotected or left off another team or traded or whatever situation you’re in, I think you have something to prove. Guys here are maybe getting a chance that they might not have gotten somewhere else. We had to become a team quickly, and we’ve done that.”
The Knights have been playing without defenseman Brayden McNabb, who has missed three games with an undisclosed injury. Prior to the Winnipeg game, Vegas coach Gerard Gallant said that McNabb may return to the lineup in Minnesota.
It will be the second meeting between the Wild and Knights. Vegas fell 4-2 in Minnesota on the last day of November.
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