The Minnesota Wild won’t open up their post-season until Thursday when they visit the Dallas Stars for the opening game of what should be a spirited series, but Game 1 of the series may see the Wild without Zach Parise, and it doesn’t appear Minnesota would be too shocked if that were the case for Game 2, Game 3 and possibly onward.
According to the Minneapolis Star Tribune’s Michael Russo, Parise, 31, is dealing with the effects of a back injury that was first tweaked in January. Parise missed the final game of the Wild’s season and he hasn’t seen the ice since April 5. Praise was reportedly set to see a specialist to deal with the injury Monday.
Wild goaltender Devan Dubnyk said it best, telling Russo that Parise being sidelined is “an extraordinary loss” for the team as they prepare for the opening-round series. Heading into the series the Wild were already in tough against a high-flying Stars team, but remove Parise from the equation and the uphill battle just got exponentially more difficult.
Statistically, Parise finished second on the Wild in scoring this season, but he’s undoubtedly the offensive leader of this team. His 25 goals were the most of any Wild player and only Mikko Koivu scored more than Parise’s 53 points, but his importance to Minnesota’s success goes beyond his scoring ability. Parise’s an effective two-way player, he takes important minutes against top opponents and on a team that has few game-breaking talents, Parise is one.
“He’s a great player, he’s a leader of our hockey team, he’s obviously one of the hardest-working guys on this team,” center Jarret Stoll told Russo. “There’s a lot of things that he brings…I don’t know if there’s a team that has won the Stanley Cup or gone far in the playoffs without losing different guys. We’re all going to have to chip in and be a little bit better.”
Replacing Parise gets more difficult, however, when Thomas Vanek is also out of the lineup. Vanek, 32, has struggled since coming to Minnesota, but his 18 goals and 41 points were seventh-best on the Wild. There’s no way Vanek would be able to fill the hole left by Parise in terms of effectiveness in all three zones, but the Austrian winger would at least supply some offensive punch. When it comes to tough defensive minutes — something Parise would be able to take on were he healthy — many of those will fall on Erik Haula, 25, but he’s also nursing an injury. However, Wild coach John Torchetti is confident Haula will play in Game 1.
If Parise can’t be back for the first couple games of the series, Minnesota could be down two games heading home. That would be an incredibly precarious position to be in against a Dallas team that’s loaded with talent and expecting Tyler Seguin to return. But the Wild know that in order to win, someone will have to step up, even if no one player is going to fill the hole left by Parise.
“(You’re) just not replacing Zach,” Dubnyk told Russo. “Somebody like that, when he’s in the lineup, he’s awesome, and when he’s not, you certainly feel it. It’s sports. That’s the way it is.”