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Wild Preps For Devils And Little Space To Work With

by Evan Sporer / Minnesota Wild

NEW JERSEY – Finishing up a road trip in which the Minnesota Wild has stressed playing quick, it will face a team on Thursday in the New Jersey Devils that makes teams look like they're playing in quick sand.

When the Wild and Devils played in January, the teams combined for 35 shots on goal, 18 by Minnesota. It was the fewest combined shots on goal in a Wild game in 12 years.

The Devils tend to muck up the neutral zone, crowding the space between the blue lines, 50 feet that generally portends pace.

"We can't be doing too many level plays and trying to make plays through the neutral zone, or else we're going to keep turning it over and playing in our end," Charlie Coyle said. "We have to make sure we're hard on pucks in the neutral zone, and we get in, and get on our forecheck right away, and make them work in their zone."

When the Wild practiced in Ottawa on Monday prior to its game Tuesday night, Minnesota worked on chipping pucks deep, making sure to get the play and speed behind its opponents defense.

Against the Devils, not trying to do too much with what New Jersey gives (or doesn’t' give) you will be a big deciding-factor in how successful the Wild is, interim Head Coach John Torchetti said.

"That's what we talked about today at the beginning," he said. "We showed film (of Ottawa), showed how we simplified our game, stayed above the puck, we had good opportunities, and we had better puck possession time."

These are also the types of games that can be frustrating, especially for a Wild team that likes to pick up the pace.

"You have to make sure you’re getting pucks behind them and using your speed on the forecheck and get pucks back that way because you’re not going to have too many clean entries through the neutral zone on these guys," Jason Zucker said.

Zucker, who has been a healthy scratch the past two games, skated on a line in practice with Mikko Koivu and Charlie Coyle. Zach Parise shifted to the left wing of Mikael Granlund and Thomas Vanek, and Jordan Schroeder was with Jarret Stoll and David Jones.

The Wild's third line of Nino Niederreiter, Erik Haula, and Justin Fontaine remained intact.

"If I’m in, I’m going to be ready to play and make sure I bring my best game," Zucker said.

Torchetti said it's important for the Wild to get Zucker going, whenever he makes his return to the lineup.

"[Zucker's] speed should be a threat every night," Torchetti said. "That's the bottom line. [Zucker] is a big, big part of our team going forward.

"He hasn't had the success all year. I think his first 10 games was really successful, or 12 games, and he hasn't had that 10, or 15, or 20-game streak back at it since those first 10.

"He just has to get back to his game, and he has to be a solid two-way player."

Forward Jason Pominville, who has missed the first two games on this road trip, and the past three overall, did not practice on Wednesday, and will not play in New Jersey. Pominville has been on the entire road trip with the Wild, and skated before the Wild practiced at the Prudential Center on Wednesday. Pominville originally sustained his injury March 5 against the Buffalo Sabres, played the following day against the St. Louis Blues, but has not taken part in a team practice since.

Iron Spurge

Defenseman Jared Spurgeon stood at his locker stall in Prudential Center on Wednesday, with maybe the most remarkable part that Spurgeon was actually still standing.

The Wild's shortest player came up with four key shot-blocks on a penalty kill late in the third on Tuesday against the Senators to preserve a one-goal lead Wild.

After the fourth, the Wild cleared the zone, Spurgeon hobbled to the bench, and went down the tunnel. He later returned to the game, and he said he was fine on Wednesday.

"It's part of the penalty kill," Spurgeon said. "Anyone would do the same thing. It just happened to keep coming my way, and that's part of playoff hockey, and playing the way to get the points we need."

The sequence also elicited a vocal reaction from the Wild's bench.

"I heard some cheering, but I was just more so trying to get off (the ice)," Spurgeon said.

Here is what some other Wild players and Torchetti had to say about Spurgeon:

Torchetti: You couldn't give a better example of an athlete than what Spurgeon did for us tonight. That's the part that, for me, for our team moving forward, that's team commitment, and that’s what we need more of.

Heart of a lion.

The whole team was spurred from it, and I thought the emotion would carry us through there.

Ryan Carter: That was a huge kill, too. There was 19 guys standing up, cheering, hollering, and it was genuine. It was neat, and it was cool.

Haula: That's playing for the team with capital letters. Blocking three shots in a row, that's what it's all about. That's going to be the difference between making it and not making it, wherever we're going to go.

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