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.
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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, Wild.com 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
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
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