PITTSBURGH – What was already billed as a challenging week got a bit tougher for the Wild when it reported to PPG Paints Arena Tuesday morning to prepare for its evening battle with the Penguins.

After underdoing core muscle surgery in November and being sidelined for 28 games, Pittsburgh captain Sidney Crosby will return to action against the Wild.



“With Sidney's return on national TV, I don't think they're going to fall flat,” coach Bruce Boudreau said.

While Boudreau acknowledged Crosby’s return makes the Wild more aware of who’s on the ice, the Penguins didn’t waver without him these past few months. In the games Crosby missed, the Penguins went 18-6-4 to sit third in the Eastern Conference with 61 points.

“They have been one of the best teams in the league for the last 10 years,” Boudreau said. “Very similar to Washington. They have two tremendous leaders up front. They have a tremendous leader in the back end. Then they just fill in the parts, and everybody has to come up and play up to their standards. It's pretty to watch.”

The Penguins won’t be the only ones to ice a different lineup.

Center Victor Rask will draw in for the Wild after sitting as a healthy scratch Sunday vs. Vancouver. He’s poised to take Ryan Donato’s spot on the fourth line.

The rest of the Wild’s lines and pairings are set to remain in the same, and Devan Dubnyk is slotted to make a second straight start.

That means defenseman Brad Hunt will be the other scratch. He and Donato were still on the ice when mostly everyone else had left the morning skate, a session that Steelers coach Mike Tomlin took in from the Wild’s bench.

“He and Danny Smith, the special teams coordinator, came down,” Boudreau said. “I've been to their camp a few times, and … I got to know [Smith] when he was with the Redskins. We just stayed good friends.”

Projected lineup:

Jason Zucker-Eric Staal-Mats Zuccarello

Zach Parise-Mikko Koivu-Kevin Fiala

Marcus Foligno-Joel Eriksson Ek-Luke Kunin

Jordan Greenway-Victor Rask-Ryan Hartman

Ryan Suter-Jared Spurgeon

Jonas Brodin-Matt Dumba

Carson Soucy-Greg Pateryn

Devan Dubnyk

Key numbers:

3: Points for defenseman Jared Spurgeon in the 7-4 loss to the Penguins on Oct.12.

55: Points in 56 career games vs. Pittsburgh for center Eric Staal.

4: Goals for winger Marcus Foligno in his last four games.

10: Assists for defenseman Jonas Brodin over the past 18 games.

397: Career assists for winger Zach Parise.

About the Penguins:

Pittsburgh returns home after sweeping a three-game road trip, most recently edging Arizona 4-3 in a shootout on Sunday. Overall, the Penguins have won seven of their last nine. Since Dec.4, they’ve lost in regulation only three times. Against the Wild, Pittsburgh has won the last four matchups. Winger Bryan Rust leads the team in goals (18), while center Evgeni Malkin paces the pack in points (44).