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Rink Report: Wild Looking to Maintain Slow Build

With second place and home ice locked up, Minnesota hopes to use final road trip as tune-up for postseason

by Dan Myers @1DanMyers /

ST. PAUL -- With two games remaining in the regular season and virtually nothing left to play for, Wild coach Bruce Boudreau doesn't want to get too crazy with his lineup decisions.

First, there's only so much he can do: The Wild has three extra skaters and a backup goalie, so it isn't as though he can rest every regular on the roster.

Even if he could, it's unlikely that would interest him.

After a rough month of March, the Wild has lost just once in regulation over its past six games. And with an opportunity to close the regular season on a high note heading into the playoffs, don't expect wholesale changes to the lineup on Minnesota's upcoming road trip to Colorado and Arizona.

"We're paid lots of money to win hockey games," Boudreau said. "So we'd like to go in there and win. We'd like to play as well as we can. I understand that it's the 81st and 82nd game, and players will be looking forward to playoffs. But I think it's important to keep the structure up and make sure we maintain what we've gained in the last 10 days."

Video: Boudreau on Playoff Momentum

The Wild will have an opportunity to rest a couple of guys who need it. Defenseman Jared Spurgeon sustained an injury during the second period on Tuesday night and did not return. Boudreau said it doesn't appear to be serious, he's on the trip and may play one of the final two games. 

Forward Chris Stewart, who missed the game Tuesday, did not practice Wednesday as he recovers from an illness. 

The good news for the Wild: Forward Jason Zucker, who has missed the past two games, will return to the lineup against the Avalanche on Thursday.

"I obviously wanted to play [the past two games], and it was something where it was just enough to where they were saying it probably wasn't smart to," Zucker said. "With playoffs a week away, it was good to get a few rest days and get it healed up. But it's really nice to come back and play."

Zucker has been skating in recent days, but the Wild have remained cautious with the postseason on the horizon. After Tuesday's 5-3 win over the Carolina Hurricanes, the Wild is locked into second place in the Central Division standings.

The only thing left to decide is who it will play in its First Round matchup. St. Louis holds a one-point lead over Nashville and also has a game in hand, making a playoff rematch with the Blues the most likely scenario.

Regardless, all the Wild can do now is wait and hope that its game remains sharp for the next week.

"Obviously, it wasn't the way we wanted it to go in March," Zucker said. "We had a lot of little things going wrong and I think they all added up to a bunch of losses. But we showed we can come back and play the way we need to play in the playoffs, and we've done that the last few games. We need to keep it going these next two."

Video: Boudreau, Players Discuss Final Road Trip

Hanzal finding his comfort zone

Zucker skated on a line with good buddy Charlie Coyle and centerman Martin Hanzal at practice on Wednesday, a line that is at least expected to begin the game together on Thursday.

Hanzal endured some growing pains in the first few games after being acquired from the Coyotes at the end of February, but has seemingly found his game of late. 

"Lately I feel way better," Hanzal said. "I've started understanding more and more what the coaches want from me. Lately I'm feeling more comfortable and hopefully we can build this towards the playoffs."

A couple of factors made Hanzal's transition to Minnesota a little rougher than normal. After spending 10 years with one organization, Hanzal was suddenly dealt. His family remained behind at first and with little to no practice time, Hanzal was tossed into the lineup with only video to prep him.

Hanzal's family joined him in Minnesota recently and a few holes in the schedule have allowed for a couple of real practices to get him comfortable.

The results have followed: Hanzal has two goals and three assists over the past five games, giving him 12 points in 18 games since joining the club. Spread out over an 82-game season, Hanzal would be on pace to post 55 points, which would be a career best.

"When you play more and more games, you get more comfortable," Hanzal said. "I'm real excited. I'm pumped right now because I haven't been in the playoffs the last five years. I'm excited because we have such a good group and I think we can really go far."

Scouting the Avalanche

Following a 5-2 loss in St. Paul on Sunday, the Avalanche responded with a win over Central Division-leading Chicago on Tuesday, scoring a pair of short-handed goals in overcoming an early 3-0 hole. The game Thursday marks Colorado's home finale, as the Avalanche finish the season with back-to-back road games against Dallas and St. Louis this weekend. The winner of the game will also lay claim to the season series: Each team has won two of the four matchups thus far. Captain Gabriel Landeskog, who scored one goal against the Wild on Sunday, followed with a goal in the win over the Blackhawks and needs three goals over the final three games to reach 20 for the fifth time in his career. Nathan MacKinnon leads the club with 51 points.

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