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Wild's Spurgeon to return against Sharks

Defenseman back from injury when Minnesota aims to clinch playoff berth

by Dan Myers / NHL.com Correspondent

SHARKS (44-29-6) at WILD (38-31-11)

TV: 8 p.m. ET; CSN-CA+, FS-N, NHL.TV

ST. PAUL, Minn. -- A victory for the Minnesota Wild against the San Jose Sharks at Xcel Energy Center on Tuesday would clinch a berth in the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the fourth consecutive season.

The Wild also can get in if the Colorado Avalanche lose to the Nashville Predators in regulation. Any combination of the Wild gaining two points or the Avalanche losing two points in the final week of the regular season will clinch Minnesota a berth in the playoffs.

The Wild have lost their past three games, including a 5-1 loss to the Winnipeg Jets at MTS Centre on Sunday. Two of those losses have come against teams that failed to qualify for the postseason.

"I think people have lost focus around here that with our record the last 25 games, we're one of the top [six] teams in the NHL," Wild coach John Torchetti said. "[The last three games] are just a little blip in the schedule. We just need to get back to work and our hard-working style."

Defenseman Jared Spurgeon is expected to return to the lineup after missing the past two games with a lower-body injury he sustained last week against the Ottawa Senators when he blocked a shot with his foot.

The Wild have struggled to advance the puck out of their zone without Spurgeon. Creating quality scoring chances has also been an issue. Minnesota has five goals in three games since Spurgeon was hurt.

"We definitely missed him," Torchetti said. "He's a good 27-plus minute guy, responsible, makes a good first pass. He just makes a calmer, poised, cleaner exits for our breakouts."

The Wild will also get a look at forward Zac Dalpe, who was recalled from Iowa of the American Hockey League on Monday. Dalpe has missed most of the season with groin and knee injuries but has three goals in eight games since getting into the lineup in Iowa.

Dalpe had one goal and two assists in 21 games with the Buffalo Sabres last season and has played in 117 career games in the NHL with the Sabres, Carolina Hurricanes and Vancouver Canucks.

"It's been a long time coming," Dalpe said. "It's been a long year just battling injuries and stuff. No excuse not to be fresh now. I'm happy to be dressing with this locker room.

"It's been a frustrating year, that's for sure. I've been lucky enough in my career to not get hurt much and I think it all came in one year here. Hopefully we got it out of the way and no more injuries."

San Jose is going for its 28th road win this season, which would set a new team record. The Sharks are playing their final game away from SAP Center and a victory would ensure they have the best road record in the NHL.

"We don't really talk about it or think about it, it's just one of those things that takes care of itself," Sharks defenseman Paul Martin said. "We just try to play more of a simple game, play north-south, not try to get too fancy. We have that depth to roll lines and continue to play that way."

The Sharks still have a chance at winning the Pacific Division, but are four points behind the Anaheim Ducks and three back of the Los Angeles Kings with three games to play. The Ducks have a game in hand on the Sharks and Kings.

"We'd like to catch them," Sharks forward Joe Thornton said. "[But] we obviously know there are two teams ahead of us. We just want to focus in on our game and we'll see what happens after that."

Here are the projected lineups:

SHARKS

Tomas Hertl - Joe Thornton - Joe Pavelski

Joonas Donskoi - Logan Couture - Joel Ward

Nick Spaling - Patrick Marleau - Tommy Wingels

Melker Karlsson - Micheal Haley - Dainius Zubrus

Paul Martin - Brent Burns

Brenden Dillon - Roman Polak

Dylan DeMelo - Justin Braun

James Reimer

Martin Jones

Injured: Matt Nieto (hand), Marc-Edouard Vlasic (lower body), Matt Tennyson (concussion), Chris Tierney (undisclosed)

Scratched: None

WILD

Zach Parise - Mikko Koivu - Mikael Granlund

Nino Niederreiter - Erik Haula - Jason Pominville

Jason Zucker - Zac Dalpe - Charlie Coyle

Chris Porter - Jarret Stoll - David Jones

Ryan Suter - Jared Spurgeon

Marco Scandella - Jonas Brodin

Nate Prosser - Christian Folin

Devan Dubnyk

Darcy Kuemper

Injured: Thomas Vanek (upper body)

Scratched: Ryan Carter, Matt Dumba, Justin Fontaine, Mike Reilly, Jordan Schroeder

Status update: Nieto skated on Tuesday and could be close to a return. He will have X-rays on his hand on Wednesday. ... Folin will take Dumba's spot in the lineup after being recalled from Iowa on Monday. 

Who's hot: Pavelski has four goals and six assists in his past nine games. ... Granlund has a goal in back-to-back games and three in his past five. He also has two assists during that stretch.

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