Whatever's been ailing Nino Niederreiter for most of the season is gone.
The Minnesota Wild forward, who went from second-liner to fourth-liner after starting the season in a dreadful slump, has picked up his game lately with four goals in his last three contests. Niederreiter's two goals keyed a 5-1 win Thursday night over the Florida Panthers, Minnesota's second straight lopsided victory.
Niederreiter and his team try to keep things going in the right direction with a matinee game Saturday against the Pacific Division-leading Calgary Flames at Xcel Energy Center.
"I think for me, personally, confidence is obviously a big thing," he said. "Staying on one side for quite some time for now, that's definitely helped my game a lot."
Giving Niederreiter's game more bite has occurred as the result of an injury to captain Mikko Koivu. In the third period of a 2-0 loss on Dec. 6 in Calgary, Koivu was knocked out as the result of a knee-to-knee hit by Flames captain Mark Giordano.
Teamed with Zach Parise and Charlie Coyle the last two games, Niederreiter has potted three goals. Parise also has a pair of goals, while Coyle has a goal and played to a plus-3 rating against Florida.
Koivu could return on Saturday, which will present Wild coach Bruce Boudreau with an interesting dilemma: Break up the line that has driven play so well the last two games or keep it together and move Koivu in with new linemates.
"It's a good problem to have those guys playing well," Boudreau said of the new line combination. "They're such a big part of our team and have been for the last five years. When you take two potential 20-plus goal scorers out of our lineup or they're not producing, it's a big hole.
"I'm really happy to see that they've both started to skate and play a lot better."
Whether Koivu returns or not, Giordano's presence is sure to be noted by Minnesota players and fans. He served a two-game ban for his hit but returned Wednesday night with a shorthanded goal and two assists in a crazy 6-5 overtime win over Philadelphia.
Trailing 5-3 with less than 90 seconds left, Calgary (20-10-2) tied it with goals by Rasmus Andersson and Sean Monahan, the equalizer coming at 19:53. Johnny Gaudreau completed the rally with his 13th goal 35 seconds into the extra period.
"I don't think I've been part of something like that, not that I remember anyways," Flames coach Bill Peters said. "Exciting game. Good for the fans."
It was only the 28th time in NHL history that a team won a game in which they trailed by multiple goals in the last two minutes of regulation. It was fitting that offense brought Calgary back, since it's third in the league in scoring with 113 goals, just over 3 1/2 per match.
Five players are averaging more than a point a game for the Flames, led by Gaudreau's 42 on 13 goals and 29 assists. Monahan, Giordano, Matthew Tkachuk and Elias Lindholm are also in that club.