Michael Russo has covered the National Hockey League since 1995. He has covered the Minnesota Wild for the Star Tribune since 2005, after 10 years of covering the Florida Panthers for the Sun-Sentinel. He uses “Russo’s Rants” to feed a wide-ranging hockey-centric discussion with readers, and can be heard weekly on KFAN (100.3 FM) radio and seen weekly on Fox Sports North.

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Zucker returns for Wild's first-place showdown with Canucks

Posted by: Michael Russo under Wild pregame skate Updated: March 18, 2013 - 8:07 PM

Update: Tom Gilbert won't play and is day-to-day. Nate Prosser will replace the defenseman.

The Wild and Vancouver Canucks face off for first-place in the Northwest Division tonight at 9 p.m. CT from Rogers Arena. The Wild and Canucks are tied with 32 points, but the Wild is first in the division and third in the West as we speak because it has 12 regulation/overtime wins compared to the Canucks' 10.

That is the first tiebreaker when the amount of games (27) are even.

I'll be on Fox Sports North-Plus tonight during Wild Live at 8:30 p.m. CT and again during the first intermission. If you need to know where to find FSN-Plus, click this link.

Hopefully you saw my story on Ryan Suter and his great play today. If not, here is that link.

Niklas Backstrom vs. Roberto Luongo (one goal allowed vs. Wild in past four home starts) tonight. With David Booth hurt yet again, the Canucks have recalled former Gopher Jordan Schroeder, who was recently sent back to Chicago of the AHL because he had no goals and one assist in 13 games after a good start to the season. Keith Ballard, scratched in three straight, returns. No Andrew Alberts or Cam Barker.

Mike Rupp left the morning skate early with that lower-body injury. Thus, Jason Zucker returns and will at least start on the fourth line. Still, significant loss because Rupp has played well. Tom Gilbert will be a game-time decision. If he can't play, Nate Prosser will. Brett Clark will have to continue to wait to make his Wild debut.

Canucks should be surly. They're 5-6-4 in their past 15, are 0 for 30 in the past 11 on the power play and 0 for 34 overall. That's with two former Art Ross Trophy winners -- the Sedins -- on the No. 1 unit.

The Wild is winless in 11 in this arena. The Canucks will come out physical against Minnesota -- something the Wild was able to withstand in Saturday's win over Colorado when the Avs tried the same thing.

Always a good storyline is watching Mikko Koivu and Alex Burrows. Koivu and the Canucks' agitator got into it bigtime eight nights ago, and in that game at one point, five Wild players were in the box. In the last visit to Vancouver, Koivu got under Burrows' skin by nonchalantly stealing his glove and throwing it back onto the ice.

Cue the terrific Ray Ferraro's commentary:

And of course, it is well known that in real life, Pierre-Marc Bouchard and Burrows despise each other.

It'll be interesting to see if Bouchard keeps his good play up tonight. He was scratched here Feb. 12 and this is the arena where he suffered his concussion last year -- an innocuous bump to the head from Chris Higgins late in the game Jan. 4, 2012, that compounded the hit from behind he took from Zach Bogosian in Winnipeg a few weeks earlier.

Bouchard never played again last season after the bump in Vancouver. If he struggles, I'm sure coach Mike Yeo won't hesitate putting Zucker back on the second line.

Talk to ya tonight.

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