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Postgame: Wild's Zucker hasn't slowed down after escaping serious injury

Mouth agape, staring up to the rafters and checking the video replay, winger Jason Zucker was the epitome of just how close the Wild came on a handful of occasions to scoring – missed chances that stung the team in a 3-1 loss to the Avalanche Tuesday at Xcel Energy Center.

But that Zucker was even on the ice, skating and shooting, was impressive considering what happened to him over the weekend.

 

 

During the team’s 5-2 win over the Rangers Saturday, New York defenseman Brady Skjei fell on Zucker’s right leg – twisting it awkwardly.

Zucker remained down on the ice for a few minutes and had to be helped off the ice since he wasn’t putting any weight on his right leg. But despite how grim the sequence looked, Zucker returned to the game – that same second period – to help the Wild close out the victory. It was a remarkable show of resilience, especially considering Zucker feared he was in trouble initially.

“The second [Skjei] landed on me, he was apologizing,” Zucker recalled. “He knew the way he landed on me was weird. Obviously, it wasn't his fault. He didn't do anything wrong. He just kind of fell, and it was an odd play. Yeah, I think right away I kind of had that feeling like, 'Oh this isn't good.' Luckily, it's just been a little bit sore and other than that really, really good.”

Once he got checked out Saturday during the game, Zucker knew relatively soon that he’d be able to keep playing.

“Sometimes you get numb feelings throughout and once that starts going away, you're like, 'OK. This is alright,’” he said. ‘There's a few tender spots. You do X-rays and the doctors look at that kind of stuff to make sure that it's stable, and I can't hurt it any worse.

“At that point, it's a matter of playing with a little bit of pain, which everybody in this league does. Then it's fine, and time to get back out there.”

Against Colorado, Zucker played 19 minutes, 33 seconds. His five shots were tied for the most in the game.

“It hasn't affected me,” he said. “I feel it a bit after games. I mean, every guy has a million things going on right now. I'm not the only one. I'm just lucky it wasn't worse.”

Only one puck out of 37 shots ended up in the Avalanche’s net, but the Wild did get a break when a second-period Colorado goal was overturned due to goaltender interference.

It was a no-brainer call, since center Carl Soderberg was draped over goalie Devan Dubnyk when winger Colin Wilson converted on a wrap-around.

“I was frustrated to watch the replay, and [the referee’s] standing right behind me,” Dubnyk said. “I always feel like maybe they should call it off and have the other team challenge it if they want to, but things happen fast. All I know is I was staring at a guy’s pants, and the puck shot off my head and in. So I was just happy it went the right way.”

This was the second straight homestand that the Wild whiffed on; after going 0-3-1 last month against a slate of competition below it in the standings at the time, the team went 1-3-1 during this season-long five-game challenge.

“It’s very unfortunate that we haven’t had the success at home this year that this team has had every year almost in its existence,” coach Bruce Boudreau said.

Perhaps, then, this is a good time for the Wild to return to the road where it’s enjoyed the bulk of its success this season; the team is 19-15-2 as the visitor and dropped to 15-16-7 as the host.

“We're excited to hit the road here and try to get some points,” center Eric Fehr said. “We obviously still believe in ourselves, and I thought the guys had good energy. It's key for us to score early, I think, make teams come out of their shell a little bit. When we do that, it's a lot easier for our team to control the puck and to move forward."

Wild can move back into playoff spot with win over Avalanche

The Wild received some help on the out-of-town scoreboard Monday night, as the Coyotes fell to the Lightning, and that means the Wild can climb back into the second wild card spot in the Western Conference Tuesday with a win against the Avalanche.

“You gotta outwork the opposition,” coach Bruce Boudreau said. “You gotta do everything you can to garner two points at the end of the night.”

With 77 points, the Wild is just a point shy of Arizona with nine games to go. Not only would a victory put the team back in a playoff position after it dropped out of one last week, but the Wild would also put more distance between it and Colorado. The Avalanche is three points shy of the Wild.

“Two points is two points,” Boudreau said. “That’s the bottom line and once you get in, anything else can happen.”

This is the final test of a season-long five-game homestand that is currently 1-2-1. All of the Wild’s production came last weekend, when it topped the Rangers 5-2 Saturday and then banked a point in a 3-2 overtime loss to the Islanders – efforts that were much more reflective of the urgency the Wild needs to have success at this juncture of the season.

“We’ve worked very hard,” Boudreau said. “We got three out of four points. You would have loved to have gotten four, but that should be the norm right now.”

Former Gophers goalie Mat Robson, whom the Wild signed Monday to a two-year, entry-level contract that starts immediately, wasn’t with the team on the ice Tuesday, but he’s expected to join practices at some point.

“He’ll practice with us and see what the NHL life is all about,” Boudreau said.

Projected lineup:

Zach Parise-Eric Staal-Kevin Fiala

Ryan Donato-Luke Kunin-Jason Zucker

Jordan Greenway-Victor Rask-Pontus Aberg

Marcus Foligno-Eric Fehr-J.T. Brown

Ryan Suter-Jared Spurgeon

Jonas Brodin-Greg Pateryn

Nick Seeler-Brad Hunt

Devan Dubnyk

Key numbers:

13: Points in 13 games for winger Ryan Donato.

10: Points for winger Jason Zucker in his past 12 games.

2: Goals for defenseman Jared Spurgeon over the weekend.

3: Consecutive games for the Wild in which the power play has scored.

26:52: Average ice time for defenseman Ryan Suter, tops in the NHL.

About the Avalanche:

Colorado is starting a two-game road trip through the Central Division. It’s coming off a 3-0 win over New Jersey Sunday at home. Before then, the Avalanche had dropped two straight. Center Nathan MacKinnon eclipsed 90 points Sunday. He’s the only player in Avalanche history besides Peter Forsberg to post back-to-back seasons of 90-plus points.

Final, 3/19 1 2 3 F
Colorado 32-29-12 1 1 1 3
Minnesota 34-31-9 0 1 0 1

NHL Scoreboard

  • Toronto

    Buffalo

     

    - F

    4

    2

  • Tampa Bay

    Washington

     

    - F

    5

    4

  • Winnipeg

    Anaheim

     

    - F

    3

    0

  • Ottawa

    Vancouver

     

    - F

    4

    7