ST. PAUL, Minn. -- With realignment on the horizon, tonight's battle between the Minnesota Wild and Chicago Blackhawks (7:30 p.m. ET, Versus) should be the start of a heated divisional rivalry starting as soon as next season.
This time around, however, it will settle midseason Western Conference supremacy, as the top two teams in the conference meet for the first time this season, here at the Xcel Energy Center.
The Blackhawks trail the Wild by three points in the standings. After this game, the Hawks will play six of their next seven at home to close the 2011 portion of their schedule.
The Wild return to downtown St. Paul for the first time in 12 days after a successful five-game road trip that saw them go 4-1-0.
Also returning could be a few key elements to the roster.
Coach Mike Yeo said defenseman Marek Zidlicky -- absent since Nov. 15 with a concussion -- could return to the lineup tonight. The puck-moving blueliner has 6 assists in 18 games this season.
Who sits if Zidlicky comes back is a question Yeo said the Wild coaching staff will toss around today.
"That's the tricky thing," Yeo said. "We have to get Zids back into the lineup. We have to get his game going. I felt like he was starting to come along before he got hurt."
Forward Matt Cullen also could return tonight after missing Tuesday's game in Winnipeg after falling ill earlier in the day. Yeo said he was feeling better but would be a game-time decision.
Also not to be decided until game-time will be the status of forward Pierre-Marc Bouchard, who was injured late in Tuesday's game after being checked from behind head-first into the boards. Bouchard, who missed all but one game in 2009-10 with a concussion, left the game with blood pouring out of his nose. He was one of only a couple of Wild players to skate this morning and appeared to have stitches on the bridge of his nose.
Wild forward Guillaume Latendresse returned to the lineup Tuesday in Winnipeg after missing 15 games with a concussion. He scored Minnesota's only goal in a 2-1 loss to the Jets, but also will be a game-time decision depending on how he feels after his first game back. He only practiced with the team once before making his return.
The Wild do have forward Warren Peters available because of the line-up uncertainty.
"We don't know what our lineup is yet, to be honest," Yeo said.
That uncertainty even extends to the net, where Niklas Backstrom will start -- if he's up to it. Backstrom missed three games with a groin injury earlier this month, but has played the last two games, including a 25-save effort Tuesday. Yeo hadn't talked to Backstrom to find out how he felt, but if he can't go, Matt Hackett would earn the start. Yeo said the team is in no rush to bring back an injured Josh Harding.