Mike Yeo admitted he was curious enough to watch on TV Thursday night as Columbus played at Dallas in a game that could have stamped his team’s ticket to the NHL playoffs. At the same time, the Wild coach insisted the outcome would have no bearing on his plans going forward.
Several hours before the Blue Jackets won 3-1, preventing the Wild from clinching a playoff berth, Yeo already was urging his players to view Friday night’s game against Edmonton as a must-win situation. A victory at Xcel Energy Center will give the Wild its first postseason berth since 2008. To get it, Yeo said, his players must maintain the strides they made in Tuesday’s slump-busting victory over Los Angeles, which still was lifting their mood.
At a lively practice Thursday, the one somber note for the Wild was the absence of Jason Pominville. The winger’s sweater and skates hung untouched in his locker, two days after he absorbed a wicked elbow to the face courtesy of the Kings’ Dustin Brown. The Wild has not elaborated on the injury, and Yeo said he had no update on Pominville’s condition other than to declare his status day-to-day.
On the other side of the emotional ledger, winger Mike Rupp participated fully in practice, fueling hope that he might return after missing four games because of a lower-body injury. And Yeo was pleased to see an attitude similar to the one the Wild displayed before it dispatched the Kings: a blend of concentration and commitment, without the anxiety that can wreak havoc in a playoff race. That will be critical, he said, to setting the proper tone for Friday’s game and beyond.
“What has impressed me the last couple of days with this group is that we’ve acted like we’ve been here before,’’ Yeo said. “It’s important that you’re intense and you’re ready to play the game. But there has to be a certain degree of looseness and confidence to the way you play the games, and I feel we’ve had that.
“The guys were spot-on as far as focus in the last game. That’s going to be really important [Friday], so we have to be ready to do the same thing.’’
In the Oilers, the Wild face a reeling opponent that has lost nine of its past 10 games and has the league’s fifth-worst record at 17-22-7. They will be among the 14 teams participating in Monday’s NHL draft lottery in Toronto, rather than continuing their season in the playoffs.
Goaltender Devan Dubnyk called out his team after a 4-1 loss to league-leading Chicago on Wednesday, telling the Edmonton Journal that the Oilers’ recent play has been “frustrating and unacceptable.’’
Just last Sunday, Wild winger Zach Parise expressed frustration at his team’s shortcomings after a 4-1 loss to Calgary. The 2-1 defeat of the Kings, which ended a five-game winless streak at home, shifted the players’ attitudes.
Parise and center Kyle Brodziak both cited the defensive play of the Wild’s forwards, who pressured the Kings into turnovers and fulfilled Yeo’s mission of being a tough team to play against. Brodziak said the victory served as an important reminder of what the Wild can achieve when players do not stray from their duties. That, he noted, should prompt all of them to seek their peak as the playoffs approach.
“That win was probably one of the biggest games I’ve ever been part of in my life,’’ Brodziak said. “It made the last two days more enjoyable, but we still have to focus. [Friday’s game] is just as big as the last game. We’ve got to get back on the horse and go back at it.’’
Parise, who made the playoffs with New Jersey in six of the past seven seasons, concurred. “We want to make sure we’re playing the right way and we’re getting good habits going into the playoffs,’’ he said. “You don’t want to just limp in. It’s an important time for us as a team and, I think, as an organization. We really need to play our best hockey right now. ’’