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At the Rink: Wild at Blackhawks

by Brian Hedger /

CHICAGO -- The Chicago Blackhawks won't have center Brad Richards and the Minnesota Wild might have left wing Jason Zucker for the first time since early February when the teams play at United Center on Tuesday (8:30 p.m. ET; NBCSN, CSN-CH).

Richards didn't participate in the morning skate and coach Joel Quenneville said he will sit the Blackhawks' remaining three games with an upper-body injury. Rookie forward Kyle Baun, recently signed as a college free agent, will make his NHL debut and could play right wing on the second line with Antoine Vermette and left wing Brandon Saad.

Vermette will shift back to center of the second line after a five-game stint on the right wing of the same line, which Richards centered.

"[Baun has] a lot of enthusiasm to his game and we like the way he moves out there," Quenneville said. "What he does bring is some quickness and he's one of those hard players that you look forward to seeing. He's got a lot of enthusiasm and I'm sure he can't wait to get out there tonight."

Baun received 18 contract offers after his junior season at Colgate and opted to sign a two-year entry-level contract with the Blackhawks, who agreed to keep him on the NHL roster the rest of the regular season. That burned the first year of the contract, so he'll become a restricted free agent after the 2015-16 season.

Chicago and Minnesota each have a lot left on the line.

The Blackhawks, third in the Central Division, are still in a chase to finish first or catch the second-place Nashville Predators for home ice in the 2015 Stanley Cup Playoffs. The Wild, who hold the first wild card into the playoffs from the Western Conference, are still trying to clinch a playoff berth after losing 2-0 to the Winnipeg Jets, who hold the second wild card, at Xcel Energy Center on Monday.

The top five teams in the division each have three games remaining and all five are playing Tuesday. Chicago needs to win to stay within striking distance of the top two teams, while Minnesota has numerous clinching scenarios. The Wild could settle things easiest by beating the Blackhawks in regulation.

Zucker had surgery to repair a fractured clavicle Feb. 12, but is close to returning. He's been cleared for contact and might be in the lineup against Chicago. If so, his return will happen about eight weeks after surgery.

"If that happens, then yeah, I'll be ready," Zucker said after participating in the Wild's optional morning skate. "It's always a little bit different [in games]. Obviously none of your teammates want to crush you in practice or anything like that, but as far as what I've been doing [in practices], it's been feeling good."

If Zucker plays, look for him to potentially play on the fourth line. Center Erik Haula would likely come out of the lineup, with Kyle Brodziak shifting from right wing to center the fourth line.

"There is a possibility that [Zucker] could be in," Minnesota coach Mike Yeo said. "We've got some lineup decisions to make for tonight, but we've got a lot of guys at our disposal. Everybody brings something different to the table."

Injured forward Matt Cooke, who's been out since Feb. 2 with a sports hernia, is also getting close to returning. It's unclear where in the lineup he'd go if he plays against Chicago. Forward Nino Niederreiter will play for the Wild after a puck shot by teammate Matt Dumba struck him in the foot Monday.

Yeo said there is bruising, but no fractures.

"There's always some pain when you block a shot from your own teammate, but it is what it is," Niederreiter said. "I'll be fine. Definitely, I was very happy that nothing major happened."

The Blackhawks had other injury updates too. Veteran defenseman Kimmo Timonen, injured in the first period Sunday against the St. Louis Blues on a hit from behind, won't play because of an upper-body injury. Timonen skated and felt better, according to Quenneville, but David Rundblad will replace him.

Right wing Patrick Kane also took another step in his recovery from surgery Feb. 25 to repair a fractured left clavicle. He took slap shots and one-timers for the first time since returning to the ice for practices April 1.

The Blackhawks haven't changed their estimated 12-week recovery timeframe, but he hasn't been ruled out for the first round of the playoffs yet. Like Zucker, there remains a chance he could return earlier than expected.

Goalie Corey Crawford will start for the Blackhawks and Devan Dubnyk will try to extend his stellar record in road starts for the Wild.

Here are the projected lineups:


Zach PariseMikael GranlundJason Pominville

Nino NiederreiterMikko KoivuChris Stewart

Thomas VanekCharlie CoyleJustin Fontaine

Jason ZuckerKyle Brodziak -- Jordan Schroeder

Ryan SuterJonas Brodin

Marco ScandellaJared Spurgeon

Nate ProsserMatt Dumba

Devan Dubnyk

Niklas Backstrom

Scratched: Darcy Kuemper, Christian Folin, Erik Haula, Sean Bergenheim, Jordan Leopold, Ryan Carter

Injured: Matt Cooke (sports hernia), Keith Ballard (concussion/facial fractures)


Kris VersteegJonathan ToewsMarian Hossa

Brandon Saad -- Antoine VermetteKyle Baun

Bryan BickellAndrew ShawPatrick Sharp

Joakim NordstromMarcus KrugerTeuvo Teravainen

Duncan KeithBrent Seabrook

Johnny OduyaNiklas Hjalmarsson

David RundbladMichal Rozsival

Corey Crawford

Scott Darling

Scratched: Andrew Desjardins, Michael Paliotta

Injured: Brad Richards (upper body), Patrick Kane (clavicle), Kimmo Timonen (upper body), Daniel Carcillo (upper body)

Status update: Baun skated at right wing on the second line during line rushes in the morning, but could wind up further down at right wing in the bottom six. … Sharp skated at right wing of the third line, after playing left wing on the second line the previous five games. … Zucker skated with a handful of players and took some contact to see if his clavicle was ready for a game.

Who's hot: Hossa has one goal and five assists during a five-game point streak. … Since coming to Minnesota in a mid-season trade, Dubnyk is 14-1-1 with a 1.44 goals-against average and .952 save percentage in road games.

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