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From the Rink: Kunin eager for return as Wild enters 'playoff mode'

Storylines, streaming and broadcast info, lineups and more as Minnesota hosts Dallas in key matchup of Central Division foes

by Phil Ervin /

ST. PAUL -- On the official injury report, Luke Kunin only missed two games with an upper-body injury.

But for the 21-year-old Wild forward, the past week has felt like an eternity.

"The whole time you're sitting out, you wishing you were helping your team playing," Kunin said. "So it's nice to be back. I just want to pick up where I left off. I was feeling comfortable there, so hopefully we'll keep building with it."

"There" is at the center position, where Kunin had spent the past couple games before his March 7 injury. It's the spot he played for much of his amateur career before Minnesota shifted him to the wing. Boudreau has tried him at the pivot in an ever-fluid juggling of lines due to injuries, new faces and, recently, a general need to mix things up as the Wild's dropped two straight.

Expected to center a line with Jason Zucker and Ryan Donato, Kunin couldn't pick a better time to try capitalize on comfort.

[Push for the Playoffs: Save on online ticket fees now through the end of the regular season.]

The Wild on Thursday hosts a streaking Dallas Stars team with which Minnesota is jostling for a playoff wild-card position, along with fellow Central Division opponents Colorado and Chicago. Arizona's in that mix, too; heading into Thursday's action, the Coyotes are one point ahead of Minnesota for the Western Conference's final postseason slot.

Lose tonight and Dallas -- which has won five of its past six on the back of goaltender Ben Bishop's 204-minute shutout streak -- can gain a five-point advantage over the Wild in the standings.

Video: Wild pregame vs. Dallas

"When you're growing up and playing in the driveway, these are the kind of games you're describing," Minnesota coach Bruce Boudreau said after Thurday's morning skate at Xcel Energy Center. "It's not a Game 7, but it's a five-point difference with 11 games to go if we're not successful."

Said winger Jason Zucker: "It's awesome. These are the games that you get up for. These are the games you look forward to at the beginning of the year. This is playoff time, really. This isn't just the regular season, anymore. We're in playoff mode right now, and we have to be."

Here's how morning skate looked from home ice Thursday:

In case you missed it

After practicing just once in the month of March previously, the Wild used Wednesday to focus on acclimating its newcomers acquired last month to a power-play system that's been coming up empty lately. Kunin returned to practice, while Boudreau also announced Joel Eriksson Ek is out for at least a week with a lower-body injury.

Kunin also addressed the media regarding his injury, sustained last Thursday after a hard hit in Tampa.

Video: Kunin rejoins Wild at practice

Kunin joined the Wild Radio Network's Kevin Falness, along with teammates Donato and Jordan Greenway, Wednesday night on Wild Weekly.

Meanwhile, as the season's stretch run continues, broke down some of the Central Division's trade-deadline moves that have proven to be most impactful.

Wild TV's latest episode of Mich Golden Light Only in Minnesota is a dandy, featuring recently-added defensemen Anthony Bitetto and Brad Hunt trying to operate a jersey press in the Hockey Lodge.

Video: Only in Minnesota: Jersey Pressing

Finally, be sure to dissect tonight's matchup in today's Wild Warmup.

Lineups and tune-in info

Here's how the Wild is projected to line up Thursday night:

Zach Parise - Eric Staal - Kevin Fiala

Jason Zucker - Luke Kunin - Ryan Donato

Jordan Greenway - Victor Rask - Pontus Aberg

Marcus Foligno - Eric Fehr - J.T. Brown

Ryan Suter - Jared Spurgeon

Jonas Brodin - Brad Hunt

Greg Pateryn - Nick Seeler

Devan Dubnyk

Alex Stalock

Dallas' expected lineup looks like this:

Roope Hintz - Tyler Seguin - Alexander Radulov

Jamie Benn - Jason Dickinson - Joel L'Esperance

Mattias Janmark - Radek Faksa - Blake Comeau

Andrew Cogliano - Jason Spezza - Brett Ritchie

Esa Lindell - John Klingberg

Miro Heiskanen - Roman Polak

Jamie Oleksiak - Ben Lovejoy

Ben Bishop

Anton Khudobin

Watching/listening to tonight's game:

  • The contest will be televised on FOX Sports North
  • It can be streamed live via the FOX Sports App
  • It can be heard on KFAN 100.3 FM, the Wild Radio Network or via the Wild NHL App

If you're headed to tonight's game, here's what to expect:

Video: Wild Vision: March 14 vs. Dallas

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