Four keys to the Wild's stretch run

  • Article by: MICHAEL RUSSO , Star Tribune
  • Updated: February 26, 2014 - 8:37 AM

The Wild holds a five-point lead for the first of two wild card spots in the Western Conference. But in a league that features 25 teams holding a playoff berth or within four points of one, that cushion can evaporate in an instant.

“That’s why we have to pick up right where we left off,” Wild forward Charlie Coyle said.

That’s also why coach Mike Yeo was all business during an up-tempo, very loud practice Tuesday. Yeo spent an hour barking orders and correcting mistakes, “trying to guard against any comfort creeping in.”

The Wild hasn’t played since Feb. 6 and is staring at back-to-back games Thursday and Friday in Edmonton and Vancouver.

“I don’t think we can wait until Thursday night to flip a switch, then all the sudden have the urgency that we need,” Yeo said. “We have to practice that way, we have to compete and battle in practice and make sure that we’re doing things the way that we need to do them.”

After three games in nine days, the Wild plays 20 games in the final 37 days. It will be a 6½-week sprint to the finish.

For the Wild to make the playoffs for a second consecutive season, here are the keys:

 

1. Darcy Kuemper must be the man in goal

Barring a trade by the March 5 deadline, the cage belongs to the 23-year-old rookie. Josh Harding’s return grows more unlikely by the day and Niklas Backstrom’s lingering abdominal stiffness continues to be such an issue, the veteran missed Tuesday’s practice.

Kuemper started 12 consecutive games before the Olympic break and is 8-2-2 in his past 13 starts.

While Chuck Fletcher might be forced into acquiring goaltending insurance, the Wild general manager said Tuesday he’s “very confident with Darcy. We’ve relied on a lot of young players this year. It’s sort of the makeup of our team. It’s going to be pretty hard to all of a sudden become a veteran team at the trade deadline.”

The Wild must continue to aid him defensively (2.42 goals allowed per game, fifth best in the West). Kuemper says he’s “definitely, definitely” capable of handling the pressure that will come with being the No. 1 down the stretch.

“It was a fun stretch before the Olympic break, but I can’t be satisfied with that,” Kuemper said. “We’ve got a lot of important games coming up here, an important playoff push, not only to get into the playoffs, but to continue on once we get there.”

 

2. The Wild must win on the road

Twelve of the Wild’s final 23 games are on the road, including a stretch of eight of 10 games from March 17-April 3. We know the Wild is confident at home, holding a 21-7-2 record at Xcel Energy Center. Only St. Louis, Anaheim and San Jose (22 wins each) have more home wins in the West.

But the Wild is 10-14-5 on the road, tied with Edmonton, Calgary, Phoenix and Washington for the second-fewest road victories in the NHL. That’s three fewer road wins than any other Western Conference team in a playoff position.

Yeo said it’s imperative the Wild takes advantage of the home portion of the schedule, “but you know that we’re not going to be able to just run away with things and be able to cruise in. We’re going to have to finish the season strong and that means we’re going to have to play well on the road.”

  • related content

  • Wild notes: Backstrom misses practice

    Wednesday February 26, 2014

    Darcy Kuemper is expected to start Thursday in Edmonton.

  • Playoff chase: NHL conference standings

    Tuesday March 4, 2014

  • The Minnesota Wild's Jason Pominville (29) scores the game winner past Montreal goalie Carey Price (31) during third period action Friday, Nov. 1, 2013, at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul.

  • Mikael Granlund should return confident after his Sochi play for Finland.

  • Darcy Kuemper.

  • Mikko Koivu

  • get related content delivered to your inbox

  • manage my email subscriptions

ADVERTISEMENT

St. Louis - LP: A. Wainwright 1 FINAL
Pittsburgh - WP: J. Locke 3
Texas - WP: C. Lewis 12 FINAL
Seattle - LP: E. Ramirez 4
Washington - LP: D. Fister 4 FINAL
Philadelphia - WP: K. Kendrick 8
Tampa Bay - WP: D. Smyly 3 FINAL
Baltimore - LP: K. Gausman 1
Boston - LP: T. Layne 2 FINAL
Toronto - WP: M. Stroman 5
NY Yankees - WP: S. Greene 8 FINAL
Detroit - LP: D. Price 4
Atlanta - WP: J. Teheran 3 FINAL
NY Mets - LP: Z. Wheeler 2
Chicago Cubs - LP: J. Turner 5 FINAL
Cincinnati - WP: M. Latos 7
Cleveland - LP: C. Kluber 2 FINAL
Chicago WSox - WP: H. Noesi 3
Minnesota - LP: P. Hughes 1 FINAL
Kansas City - WP: W. Davis 6
Oakland - WP: D. Otero 5 FINAL
Houston - LP: C. Qualls 4
Milwaukee - LP: Z. Duke 2 FINAL
San Diego - WP: D. Thayer 3
Los Angeles - WP: C. Kershaw 3 FINAL
Arizona - LP: W. Miley 1
Miami - LP: H. Alvarez 1 FINAL
LA Angels - WP: H. Santiago 6
Colorado - LP: J. Nicasio 2 FINAL
San Francisco - WP: S. Casilla 4
Atlanta 5:00 PM
Jacksonville
Detroit 6:00 PM
Buffalo
Indianapolis 6:00 PM
Cincinnati
Kansas City 6:00 PM
Green Bay
NY Jets 6:00 PM
Philadelphia
St. Louis 6:00 PM
Miami
Carolina 6:30 PM
Pittsburgh
New England 6:30 PM
NY Giants
Washington 6:30 PM
Tampa Bay
Baltimore 7:00 PM
New Orleans
Chicago 7:00 PM
Cleveland
Denver 7:00 PM
Dallas
Minnesota 7:00 PM
Tennessee
San Francisco 7:00 PM
Houston
Arizona 9:00 PM
San Diego
Seattle 9:00 PM
Oakland
(21) Texas A&M 5:00 PM
(9) So Carolina
Wake Forest 6:02 PM
ULM
Boise State 7:00 PM
(18) Ole Miss
Tulane 7:00 PM
Tulsa
Temple 8:15 PM
Vanderbilt
Rutgers 9:00 PM
Washington St
Weber State 9:30 PM
(19) Arizona State
BYU 8/29/14 6:00 PM
Connecticut
(6) Jacksonville St 8/29/14 6:30 PM
(8) Michigan State
Bowling Green 8/29/14 6:30 PM
Western Ky
TX-San Antonio 8/29/14 8:00 PM
Houston
Colorado State 8/29/14 8:00 PM
Colorado
UNLV 8/29/14 9:30 PM
Arizona
Penn State 8/30/14 7:30 AM
UCF
Troy 8/30/14 11:00 AM
UAB
(7) UCLA 8/30/14 11:00 AM
Virginia
Western Mich 8/30/14 11:00 AM
Purdue
(5) Ohio State 8/30/14 11:00 AM
Navy
Appalachian St 8/30/14 11:00 AM
Michigan
Ga Southern 8/30/14 11:30 AM
NC State
Boston College 8/30/14 2:00 PM
Massachusetts
West Virginia 8/30/14 2:30 PM
(2) Alabama
Rice 8/30/14 2:30 PM
(17) Notre Dame
(10) South Dakota St 8/30/14 2:30 PM
(24) Missouri
Fla Atlantic 8/30/14 2:30 PM
(22) Nebraska
California 8/30/14 2:30 PM
Northwestern
Marshall 8/30/14 2:30 PM
Miami-Ohio
UC Davis 8/30/14 3:00 PM
(11) Stanford
Arkansas 8/30/14 3:00 PM
(6) Auburn
(16) Clemson 8/30/14 4:30 PM
(12) Georgia
Liberty 8/30/14 5:00 PM
(23) North Carolina
Ohio U 8/30/14 5:00 PM
Kent State
Louisiana Tech 8/30/14 6:00 PM
(4) Oklahoma
Idaho 8/30/14 6:00 PM
Florida
Stephen F Austin 8/30/14 6:10 PM
(20) Kansas State
Fresno State 8/30/14 6:30 PM
(15) USC
Southern Miss 8/30/14 6:30 PM
Miss State
Texas-El Paso 8/30/14 7:00 PM
New Mexico
North Texas 8/30/14 7:00 PM
Texas
(1) Florida State 8/30/14 7:00 PM
Oklahoma State
(14) Wisconsin 8/30/14 8:00 PM
(13) LSU
South Dakota 8/30/14 9:30 PM
(3) Oregon
(25) Washington 8/30/14 9:30 PM
Hawaii
Utah State 8/31/14 6:00 PM
Tennessee
SMU 8/31/14 6:30 PM
(10) Baylor
Miami-Florida 9/1/14 7:00 PM
Louisville
D.C. 1 FINAL
Los Angeles 4
Ottawa 8/29/14 6:30 PM
Montreal
Winnipeg 8/31/14 3:00 PM
Saskatchewan
Toronto 9/1/14 12:00 PM
Hamilton
Edmonton 9/1/14 3:30 PM
Calgary
Brt Columbia 9/5/14 6:30 PM
Ottawa
Calgary 9/6/14 6:00 PM
Edmonton
Connect with twitterConnect with facebookConnect with Google+Connect with PinterestConnect with PinterestConnect with RssfeedConnect with email newsletters

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

question of the day

Poll: Which local pro team are you most excited about?

Weekly Question

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

 
Close