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What to watch for as the Golden Knights look to rebound against the Wild

Vegas hopes to bounce back after Wednesday’s thrashing, while avoiding the season-series sweep from Minnesota.

NHL: Vegas Golden Knights at Minnesota Wild Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

The longevity of an 82-game season never proves kind to teams hoping for a slight chance to breathe with the playoffs in sight. The Vegas Golden Knights found that out the hard way on Wednesday. Days removed from winning four out of five on the road, Vegas returned to T-Mobile Arena and allowed a touchdown and two-point conversion to the New Jersey Devils. After getting ran over 8-3, the Golden Knights look to be back to square one.

The Minnesota Wild might be the last opponent Vegas wants to see right now. Minnesota visits Las Vegas for the first time Friday, looking to sweep the season series against the Golden Knights. The Wild (39-24-7, 85 points) have wins of 4-2 and 5-2 against Vegas, both at Xcel Energy Center.

Vegas (45-20-5, 95 points) remains 10 points ahead of the San Jose Sharks for first place in the Pacific Division, but are seven points behind the Predators for first place in the Western Conference thanks to Nashville’s 3-2 victory at Arizona on Thursday. Minnesota is in a playoff scramble, as well. The Wild are third in the Central Division, leading Colorado by one point and Dallas by two.

The Avalanche host Nashville tonight, while the Stars are in Ottawa.

This is a game to watch if you’re into the whole playoff chase thing.

Help is on the way

No, not the song from Rise Against. It’s in the form of James Neal, which is fantastic.

Neal (hand) is expected to return from his eight-game absence tonight. Neal was not wearing the red non-contact sweater at practice Thursday and skated with the first line of Jonathan Marchessault and William Karlsson.

Of course, that means another game without Reilly Smith, but at least it’s something. It will be interesting if Gerard Gallant ends up putting Neal with two-thirds of the best line in the NHL. Neal isn’t the playmaker that Smith is, but he is a more reliable goal scorer to fill that absence than Alex Tuch attempted to be.

It’s best to expect Tomas Tatar remaining on the second line with David Perron and Erik Haula, while Tuch moves back to the third line with Ryan Carpenter and Cody Eakin.

Short-term memory for Marc-Andre Fleury

Good morning to those who slept through the past two days. If you’re just waking up, you saw Flower have his worst performance of the season Wednesday.

Fleury allowed four goals on 11 shots in less than 22 minutes of ice time against New Jersey. Some of those goals were not his fault (Exhibit A — Nico Hischier’s goal in the first period), while some were (the first and fourth). He’s expected to start for the 20th time in the past 21 games, and this will be his first crack against Minnesota. Malcolm Subban, who is expected to return to the lineup after missing almost a month with a hand injury, started those two Vegas losses at Minnesota.

Fleury is not going to admit he’s tired. He’s never been one to want a night off. That being said, for all of the analytical premises that overtake the game of hockey, the objective of the sport remains to score more goals than the other team. Eight goals is just too damn high (rent is too damn high guy dot gif). Minnesota outplayed Vegas in the first two meetings, primarily by dominating possession in the offensive zone and playing physical along the boards.

But that’s the benefit of having a goalie who has won 400 games in his NHL career. Fleury took the day off from practice Thursday and, being the veteran he is, will put Wednesday behind him.

A homecoming for Jason Zucker

Such a dream for Zucker, the only player in the NHL to be raised in Nevada, playing his first NHL game in his hometown tonight.

Zucker has eight points (five goals, three assists) in the past eight games. Such has been Vegas’ motivation for players squaring off against their former teams, there’s probably the gut feeling of Zucker hoping to play his best game in front of friends and family.

Minnesota has scored only two goals during its two-game losing streak. The Wild need scoring in a bad way. With Colorado and Dallas in the rearview mirror, this is just as much of a must-win for Minnesota than it is for Vegas.

Here’s the part where I tell you no one should be shocked if Zucker goes bananas tonight.

How to watch

Time: 7:30 p.m. PT

TV: AT&T SportsNet Rocky Mountain, NHL.TV

Radio: Fox Sports 98.9 FM/1340 AM