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Guerin on pushing for wins despite injuries: ‘We don’t have time to sulk’

Wild players didn't appear to be wearing any extra padding on Thursday night against the Lightning, but bubble-wrapping them might not be a bad idea.

They've been pelted with injuries, particularly over the last week when they lost their leading scorer, No. 1 goalie, captain, alternate captain and a depth forward in a matter of days. Already, they were missing a top defenseman and their best playmaker.

Overall, the Wild haven't been at full strength for a month.

"It's become a perfect storm at all one time," President of Hockey Operations and General Manager Bill Guerin said before puck drop Thursday at Xcel Energy Center.

This season has been filled with gut-checks for the Wild.

There was the early slump that culminated in a seven-game losing streak and coach Dean Evason's dismissal. John Hynes took over behind the bench, and the Wild responded with a dominant stretch of hockey that resurrected their playoff hopes.

But how they play amid these injury absences is what might ultimately define their season.

"It could," Guerin said. "It could. That's why I think it's important that our energy is good, our attitudes are good, the way we come to the rink is really important. Listen, whoever's in the lineup, whoever's out, whoever's injured, it matters. But it doesn't.

"We have to come with the right attitude. If we don't, we're not going to give ourselves the best chance for success. So we have to make sure we're taking care of that part of it."

The rundown of Wild injuries is staggering.

Jonas Brodin has been out for almost a month with an upper-body injury, but the defenseman skated for the first time on Thursday since he was hurt; he's considered week-to-week.

So is goaltender Filip Gustavsson after leaving last Saturday's game at Winnipeg with a lower-body injury.

Kirill Kaprizov, the Wild's top point-getter, was knocked out of that game, too, and is likely to need about a week to recover from his upper-body injury. His longtime linemate Mats Zuccarello is also about a week away from a return from an upper-body injury that sidelined him on Dec. 18. The Wild are hoping Marcus Foligno's lower-body issue is more of a day-to-day ailment.

As for Jared Spurgeon, he had a setback with the same lower-body injury he previously dealt with and has been undergoing treatment. How he feels after that will dictate his timeline.

Vinni Lettieri (lower body) is also unavailable.

In the meantime, the Wild have relied on call-ups from Iowa in the American Hockey League; they dressed four recent additions vs. Tampa Bay, and Jesper Wallstedt could be another option eventually. The organization's top goaltending prospect is expected to return from injury soon.

"Nobody's feeling sorry for us, so we can't really feel sorry for ourselves," Guerin said. "We have to play these games. We can't just wait for our regular guys. Let's play. Let's try to win. We don't have time to sulk. We're professionals.

"I think a lot of the frustration is on probably the guys that are injured. All they want to do is help and when you sit in the press box, it's hard. You don't have an effect on the game at all."

Although the Wild lineup looks different, Guerin believes the team can still play the same way.

Since arriving, Hynes has implemented a style that's predictable, especially in how the team exits its own end and skates through the neutral zone. That was evident in the Wild's 7-2 start under Hynes, and Guerin credited Hynes as doing a "remarkable job" since he was hired Nov. 27.

"It's a matter of execution and mentality," Guerin said. "We have to stay out of the penalty box. When we don't, our penalty kill's going to have to be really good. Our power play's going to have to score for us, and we're going to have to get some goals from some unsung heroes."

These injuries continued a tumultuous time for the franchise.

Last month, the Wild and assistant general manager Chris O'Hearn "mutually agreed to part ways." A day later, the Athletic reported that Guerin had not committed a fireable offense after he was investigated following a complaint of alleged verbal abuse in the workplace.

Asked about the investigation on Thursday, Guerin declined to comment.

He did mention that his staff will stay as-is right now.

The NHL trade deadline is March 8, and the Wild will have to be "calculated," Guerin said.

While they have nearly $51 million of their salary-cap expenditures currently not playing for them, which includes the roughly $14.7 million buyouts of Zach Parise and Ryan Suter, the Wild won't have much wiggle room when they do heal up.

Whether they're still in contention when that happens is to be determined.

"If we get back to healthy, we can play with anybody," Guerin said. "I'd just like to see that."