Originally posted on Fox Sports North  |  Last updated 3/23/12
ST. PAUL, Minn. Minnesota Wild forward Matt Cullen has just about seen it all in his 14-year NHL career. He's played in 1,000 career games, scored 534 points, won a Stanley Cup, has played on the power play and killed penalties. In the rarest of cases, the Moorhead, Minn. native has even played a little bit of defense. Cullen displayed his versatility again Thursday night in Minnesota's 3-2 shootout win against the Calgary Flames. With Jared Spurgeon going back to the locker room with a possible concussion in the first period and Marco Scandella leaving after blocking a shot, Cullen was asked to make the move back and play defense. "I was giving the D' a hard time," Cullen said. "I was telling them, It's not as hard as it looks.'" Cullen said he had played on the back end in short stints previously, mainly during overtimes. He also has played the point on the power play, but playing a dedicated role on defense is a bit different. "By no means am I a smooth backwards skater," Cullen joked after playing 20 minutes, 24 seconds of ice time and teaming with Nate Prosser on defense in the third period and overtime. Cullen also had an assist as the Wild erased a 2-0 deficit with goals by Dany Heatley and Darroll Powe to force overtime and Devin Setoguchi scored in the fourth round of the shootout to push Minnesota to its second-straight win. Goaltender Josh Harding had his shutout streak snapped at 113:39, but still made 27 saves and stopped all four shootout attempts by the Flames to earn the win between the pipes. Cullen's double-duty though was another example of what the 35-year old has meant to the oft-injured Wild this season. Minnesota has played an NHL-high 44 players this season, breaking the team record of 40 set in 2009-10 and is just 11 away from the all-time NHL mark set by the Boston Bruins in 1991-92. Just three players Kyle Brodziak, Dany Heatley and Powe have played in all 73 games for the Wild. Cullen has missed just one game and is fourth on the team with 35 points. "When you start to have your guys back and you have a better chance to win, you start to appreciate things like that," coach Mike Yeo said of Cullen's game Thursday. "That gets overlooked if we don't win this hockey game tonight. Matt doesn't end up a whole lot in the scoresheet tonight, but we don't win that hockey game tonight without him going back and doing that." Cullen said he had a short talk with the assistant coach Rick Wilson before playing defense on Thursday and the message was simple. "Just don't get beat," Cullen said. "It was obviously just kind of a unique situation. What are you going to do? You know how to play hockey, so you just figure it out a little bit. Fortunately I wasn't put in too many tough spots." Prosser got a close look at Cullen on defense and felt his game signified his leadership, filling in wherever needed. "He's all-around kind of player," Prosser said. "If you need him to play D, he'll play D. If you need him to play wing, center, he's very versatile and that's huge as a leader." Yeo credited the work of all his defenseman Thursday, but he isn't sure who he will have on Saturday when Minnesota plays at Buffalo. Steve Kampfer also left during Thursday's game, but later returned. If Spurgeon has a concussion, he likely wouldn't be ready to play Saturday. Marco Scandella played 26:00 on Thursday before leaving. "Some really good performances on the back end," Yeo said. "All those guys played well." Koivu returns: Captain Mikko Koivu returned to the lineup after missing 15 games and 23 of the past 27 games. He played 22:03 and had five shots on goal. The Wild are now 23-16-7 with Koivu in the lineup and 8-16-3 without him. Yeo could see the difference having Koivu back made, especially after a sluggish start. "When we're down 2-0 and we've been in that situation a few too many times recently with him out of the lineup, there was a different feeling on the bench and it started with him getting guys going and bringing the emotion level back up with our team," Yeo said. "When there's a review of that second goal, just making sure guys are focused and he was a great leader for us tonight." Follow Brian Hall on Twitter.
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