With the second wild card spot into the 2016 Stanley Cup Playoffs up for grabs, the Minnesota Wild will host the Colorado Avalanche on Tuesday in Saint Paul, but still be without two key pieces in its lineup.
Defenseman Jonas Brodin, who sustained a broken foot on Feb. 4, and has missed the past 12 games, was activated off Injured Reserve on Monday, but will not play on Tuesday in the key Central Division showdown.
Forward Jason Zucker, who has missed the past three games with a concussion, is also getting closer to a return, but remains on Injured Reserve, and will also be out.
Both players took part in the Wild's morning skate on Tuesday.
"[Brodin is] going to be day-by-day as we go, same with [Zucker]," interim Head Coach John Torchetti said.
It will be the first game for each team following the trade deadline, which passed at 3 p.m. ET on Monday.
The Avalanche acquired forward Mikkel Boedker from the Arizona Coyotes, and defenseman Eric Gelinas from the New Jersey Devils. Both are expected to play on Tuesday.
On Saturday, Colorado traded for forward Shawn Matthias from the Toronto Maple Leafs.
The Wild added forward David Jones from the Calgary Flames right before the deadline passed Monday afternoon. Jones will not play against Colorado, the team that drafted him and where he spent the first six seasons of his career, playing 272 games and scoring 70 goals.
It's possible that on Thursday the Wild will get Brodin, Zucker, and Jones all in the lineup against the Toronto Maple Leafs.
"That's like a trade deadline for me," Torchetti said.
With the Wild and Avalanche neck-and-neck for the second wild card, those additions aren't being lost on the Wild when it comes to its postseason chances.
"It builds the continuity with the team too now," Torchetti said. "Everybody gets their roles back, get settled in, and then fight for your ice, which is a good situation."
But on Tuesday, the focus is all on game number 64 for Minnesota, which, if it can earn two points in regulation, would see it pass Colorado in the standings.
"It's pretty straightforward," Devan Dubnyk said. "If we can win this game tonight, it's whoever can be better in the final 18 games. That right there puts us in a spot where, if we win our games, we're going to be. That's certainly what you want to be doing. You don't want to be hoping for other teams to lose."
The intensity when the Wild and Avalanche meet is usually raised, the seeds planted by a 2014 Western Conference quarterfinal series that the Wild won in seven games.
"First of all, we have to make sure that we play the right way ourselves," Mikko Koivu said. "It's been a while since we've played them, but we know the type of hockey that they play, and they know us."
With time winding down on the NHL calendar, the result of the game on Tuesday will go a long way in determining which of these two teams could get to play in a 2016 quarterfinal series.
"It should be a good matchup, and knowing the standings too, it will be a fun one to play in," Koivu said. "But we can't worry about that. We have to make sure we prepare the right way, and we need to be ready to play our hockey for 60 minutes."
Here is the Wild's projected lineup:
Zach Parise – Mikko Koivu – Charlie Coyle
Chris Porter – Mikael Granlund – Thomas Vanek
Nino Niederreiter – Erik Haula – Jason Pominville
Ryan Carter – Jarret Stoll – Justin Fontaine
Ryan Suter – Jared Spurgeon
Marco Scandella – Matt Dumba
Mike Reilly – Nate Prosser