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For Wild, making playoffs ‘an expectation,’ says Jason Zucker

Minnesota Wild forward Jason Zucker (16) celebrates his goal during the second period against the Winnipeg Jets at Xcel Energy Center on Jan. 10. Brace Hemmelgarn / USA TODAY Sports

ST. PAUL -- When Wild players talk about the playoffs, they talk about being ready for them, not simply making them.

Never mind the four-game winless streak since returning from the midwinter break. Never mind the fact that there are only nine games before the Feb. 25 trade deadline. Minnesota players intend to be among the Western Conference’s eight playoff teams when the postseason starts in April.

“It’s an expectation,” winger Jason Zucker said.

And why not? The Wild haven’t won a ton of playoff games the past several years, but they’ve been in the postseason each of the past six seasons — a run that started in Zucker’s first real NHL season.

“We expect to be there every year, and we have a much better team, I feel, than my first year,” he said. “Now, obviously the league is a little bit different, and we feel our division is the best in hockey, top to bottom, so that adds a wrinkle. But we have a damn good team.”

The Wild didn’t look like it on Thursday, Feb. 7, coming out slow and finally becoming overwhelmed in a 4-1 loss to Edmonton at Xcel Energy Center. In fact, since returning from their eight-day break, the Wild have nailed down only two of a potential eight points in four games (0-2-2).

That’s part of an 82-game season, Zucker said.

“I just laugh every time someone’s talking about, you know, are we going to be sellers at the deadline?” he said. “That means we’re not making the playoffs, and to us, that’s not an option. To us, we’ll do whatever we can to make sure we win.”

Boo-bye

The Wild were sent on to their upcoming two games in New Jersey and New York by boos on Thursday night. There weren’t many fans left at Xcel Energy Center by the time the buzzer ended their loss to the Oilers, but the ones still there made their feelings clear.

“We listened to the fans last night after the game, so we know how they felt,” coach Bruce Boudreau said Friday. “We felt the same way, believe me. So, there’s nothing we want to do more than win a game. Then you win two and hopefully it snowballs. That’s what our plan is.”

The Wild fell behind 1-0 within the first 2 minutes, 15 seconds and trailed the rest of the game on Thursday, ultimately surrendering an open-net goal in the final seconds.

“We love it when they’re loud. We love it when they’re behind us,” forward Charlie Coyle said. “But we need to give them a reason to get behind us.”

Slow start

After a brief promotion to the second line on Thursday, Victor Rask practiced with the fourth line on Friday. He has a goal and an assist in seven games since being acquired in a trade that sent Nino Niederreiter to Carolina on Jan. 17.

In eight games with the Hurricanes, Neiderreiter has six goals and an assist.

Asked what Rask needs to get better, Boudreau said, “I think he just has to get stronger on the puck more than anything else. I don’t know how much he played in Carolina. Maybe he has to pick up half a step somewhere. Those are a couple of things.”

Rask, 25, had one goal and four assists in 26 games in Carolina.

“It’s not all him; he’s got the puck, he’s making plays,” Boudreau added. “But we tend to look at the new guys and say if they’re not getting a lot of points that it’s their fault, but it’s a lot of combinations out there that aren’t working.”

Briefly

Boudreau said he was unsure how he would use his goalies this weekend, which starts with a 1 p.m. game at New Jersey on Saturday and ends against the Islanders on Sunday afternoon in Brooklyn. Starter Devan Dubnyk played Thursday, and backup Alex Stalock has given up seven goals on 39 shots in his past two appearances. “I haven’t figured that out,” Boudreau said. “If we win the first game and the goalie plays great, he just might go in again.”

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