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Zucker Back In As Wild Goes For Sweep Of Chicago

by Evan Sporer / Minnesota Wild

Forward Jason Zucker will be back in the lineup when the Minnesota Wild attempts to complete a season-series sweep of the Chicago Blackhawks on Tuesday at Xcel Energy Center.

Zucker, who has been a healthy scratch the past two games, will play in place of David Jones, who is out with an illness.

"He gives us a lot of speed, and outside speed, and can push the pace," interim Head Coach John Torchetti said. "He can get their [defense] sitting back a little bit. Hopefully they lose a little bit of their gap, and that's what we want; to create that speed with him."

Zucker has played in each of the Wild's first four games against Chicago this season, all Minnesota victories. Winning all five would mean the Wild would earn two points on Tuesday at a time when it's still fighting for a spot in the 2016 Stanley Cup Playoffs.

"They've been playing well, so I just have to make sure that I can bring my game, bring speed to the game, and make sure that I can do everything I can to help contribute," Zucker said.

Minnesota enters Tuesday leading the Colorado Avalanche by three points for the second wild card spot. Colorado plays at the St. Louis Blues. The Avalanche defeated the Nashville Predators 4-3 on the road Monday night.

"I try not to watch [Colorado's] games, but I did last night," Torcheti said. "But it's a situation where you have to just worry about your game, and now worry about what they're doing, or looking for someone to give you help.

"You have to just keep pace with your team, and just keep focused on one game at a time."

A Wild victory in any fashion would ensure it maintains at least a three-point lead on Colorado. Minnesota is on a season-high five-game winning streak, and has scored first in each of those victories.

The Wild is 32-7-5 when scoring first this season; Chicago is 39-6-4, the best record in the NHL in that scenario.

League-wide, teams are 758-222-109 when scoring first this season, or a winning-percentage of .746.

"It's big, and we all know what that first goal means in the NHL," Torchetti said. "You have to be able to play both ways if you don’t get it, too. You have to have a good, strong mindset going into the game, and the first period is big; the first five minutes."

In that vein, the Wild said it has liked how it has played on both sides of the puck to start games over this winning streak, and that it has gone a long way in affording itself early leads.

"We're playing really responsible," Marco Scandella said. "We're playing really good offense, but defending really well, also. We have to come into tonight, get the crowd behind us, and we're going to have to play a really good hockey game."

Here is the Wild's projected lineup:

Zach PariseMikko KoivuCharlie Coyle

Thomas VanekMikael GranlundJason Zucker

Nino NiederreiterErik HaulaJason Pominville

Justin FontaineJarret StollJordan Schroeder

Ryan SuterJared Spurgeon

Marco ScandellaJonas Brodin

Mike ReillyMatt Dumba

Devan Dubnyk

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