After studying the first month of action in the NHL and noticing how competitive it was, Wild coach Bruce Boudreau figured it would take 97 points to make the playoffs.
“It wasn’t any calculation or anything,” he said. “It just seemed the way the teams were winning all the time that this was going to be about the number it was going to take.”
That benchmark exceeded the Wild’s projected potential when it reached the midway point of the season.
Amid a second-half surge, though, the team is in position to not only meet Boudreau’s target but also eclipse 100 points for the second straight season during its final nine games — a segment that begins Saturday at home against the Predators.
“Since Christmas, we’ve got one of the better records in the NHL,” Boudreau said. “I think we were .500 for the first half, and then we’ve steadily gotten better.”
At 22-16-3 through the first 41 games, the Wild boasted 47 points and was on pace for 94. A 43-point increase, from a 19-8-5 showing, now has the Wild pegged at 101 — a hearty jump that’s reflective of more than one catalyst.
The team has been at its healthiest the past few months, even with defenseman Jared Spurgeon (hamstring tear) and forward Luke Kunin (torn ACL) getting hurt in recent weeks.
Little turnover at the trade deadline also solidified the roster, fostering more consistent line combinations and chemistry.
Combine those factors, and the Wild has played some of its best hockey this season in 2018; its 47 points since the calendar flipped rank among league leaders.
February was a particularly effective month for the Wild, as it was the most successful one in 2017-18 with nine wins and 20 points.
That performance, coupled with 11 points so far in March, has pushed the team to 90, making the gap to 97 completely bridgeable in the remaining games. The Wild could win just twice and lose in overtime or a shootout three times to achieve seven more points. A 1-3-5 finish would also do it.
But the focus is to be much better.
“You want to win all nine,” Boudreau said.
Although it would appear the Wild has a bit of breathing room from its perch as the third seed in the Central Division, nothing is finalized — unlike last season, when the team clinched March 25 en route to 106 points.
“It’s totally different,” Boudreau said. “The last March we were playing pretty awful hockey. But at the same time, we were so far ahead of everybody we weren’t worried about anything. This March, we seem to be playing pretty good hockey. But at the same time, the race is so tight you worry about it every day.”
This may make for a more stressful conclusion, but players enjoy each challenge.
“It’s fun,” winger Nino Niederreiter said. “You just focus on game after game, and obviously you’re checking the standings more and more. It’s an exciting time of the year.”
And if the Wild perseveres to secure its sixth straight trip to the postseason, it could easily be riding a wave of momentum into a first-round series.
“If we make the playoffs, we’ll have made the playoffs going in playing really good because the level of our competition we’re playing the next nine games is really strong,” Boudreau said. “So if we make it, we’ll be playoff-ready, I think.”