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Marc-Andre Fleury is back for Wild, but team’s injury issues persist

In nearly 20 full seasons of NHL hockey, Marc-Andre Fleury has learned what a concussion is like. So, he knew enough to take himself out of his last game, a 6-4 victory over the Florida Panthers on Jan. 17.

While gathering a puck behind his net in the first period at Xcel Energy Center, the Wild goaltender was leveled by the Panthers’ William Lockwood. Fleury finished out the period, and played about half of the second period before leaving at 9:03 with a 3-1 lead.

Lockwood was suspended three games by NHL Player Safety.

“I just didn’t see the guy when he was coming, and he caught me (on the chin),” Fleury said after practice Monday at TRIA Rink. “In the moment, I was just like (it’s OK). But I think the more it went on — sluggish. I just felt slow and the game felt so fast. I couldn’t track as good.

“So, first was OK, and then I went back for the second (period) and just didn’t feel good.”

Fleury was one of a handful of players to return from the Wild’s eight-day hiatus — a combination of the bye week and all-star break — healthy enough for Monday’s hour-long practice. Forwards Vinni Lettieri and Adam Raska, both out with lower-body injuries, also were full participants.

Wild coach John Hynes said the team was waiting to deem Lettieri and/or Raska ready for Wednesday’s 8:30 p.m. puck drop at Chicago, and the Wild recalled forwards Jake Lucchini and Adam Beckman from Iowa on Monday.

Fleury, though, is available. He passed the NHL’s concussion test a day before the Wild’s last game, a 3-2 loss to Anaheim on Jan. 27.

It was a relatively quick turnaround for Fleury, who missed two months with a concussion with Vegas in 2017, and had his 2015-16 season in Pittsburgh virtually ended by one; injured on March 31, he was able to play in only two postseason games for the Cup-winning Penguins.

When the symptoms started, Fleury said, he was, “Just mad. I was frustrated.”

“You always think you’ll be fine — shake it off, it’s OK, it’s OK. But then you start feeling not so good,” he added. “It gets frustrating because I know the process. I know how long it can be sometimes. Well, you never know. Like, sometimes, a week you’re good and sometimes it’s many weeks. It’s difficult to wait. … Obviously, I’ve got to feel ready. You don’t want to keep getting them.”

The Wild placed wing Pat Maroon on injured reserve with an upper-body injury before practice Monday. He was injured during the Wild’s loss to Anaheim, and Hynes said he did not have a timeline on his recovery.

The coach said Connor Dewar, injured after playing nine shifts in the Wild’s victory at Florida, started skating this week.

Minnesota starts the stretch run — they have 33 regular-season games remaining — in a difficult spot, last in a group of four teams trying to grab the Western Conference’s eighth and final playoff spot. With 47 points, they’re 13th in the 16-team conference, seven points out of a playoff spot.

“I feel like we’re all a little rejuvenated,” veteran defenseman Jake Middleton said. “We were loud and having fun (at practice) and scoring lots of goals, which is nice. I think everyone’s refreshed and ready to get back after it.”

The Wild had a chance to pull within two points of that last playoff spot with a victory over Nashville on Jan. 25. Instead, they lost their last two games before the break. They’re far from eliminated from playoff contention, but with four teams between them and that final wild-card spot, it’s going to be difficult.

“Obviously, we needed more points — always,” Fleury said. “It is what it is now. I think everybody enjoyed the break, got their minds away from it, and I think we’ll be ready to go again here and have a good push to put ourselves in a spot here for the playoffs.”

Briefly

Declan Chisholm, claimed off waivers from Winnipeg on Jan. 29, had a locker waiting for him Monday at TRIA Rink but was not in St. Paul for practice because of work visa issues, Hynes said.