An 11-game point streak helped the Wild rejoin the playoff race in the Western Conference, lifting the team out of the hole it was stuck in after its awful start to the season.
But the Wild’s work is far from over.
The next challenge is just getting started.
How the group responds to having its momentum halted Saturday in a 6-2 takedown by the Hurricanes will determine just how significant that run actually ends up being.
“It can’t get overlooked, but you can’t rest your laurels on it either,” coach Bruce Boudreau said. “You look at where we are. We did that 11-game [streak] to get even, not to advance. So now we’re even. Now we gotta push forward.”
As the Wild regroups, at home for a three-game stay that starts Tuesday at Xcel Energy Center vs. the Ducks, the fact the team was able to get in a groove for that long could inspire another round of progress.
These 11 games, which included five victories in a row, established the second-longest point streak in franchise history and delivered improvement in key areas.
Only three times did the Wild surrender more than three goals, while the offense racked up more than three on five occasions; the power play contributed in seven games.
“We’re doing it with smoke and mirrors,” said Boudreau, whose team was forecast by many to be a bottom-feeder this season — a prediction that only seemed to gain traction with the Wild’s poor debut. “… I think at the beginning it ticked them off, and then we certainly heard a lot of rumblings when we were 1-6. They’re all proud athletes. They’ve dug deep and really started playing for each other, and when you do that, good things happen.”
It’s not hard, though, to pinpoint the spots the Wild still needs to address.
Injuries to defenseman Jared Spurgeon and captain Mikko Koivu will test the Wild’s depth, and how the Wild adapts will be telling. Although the team outlasted the Lightning on Thursday in a 5-4 track meet without the two, it was much more vulnerable at Carolina.
“We miss them. There’s no doubt,” Boudreau said. “There’s no team in the league that can afford to miss two of their best players and over time have success. We miss them. But the next guy’s got to come up and do the job.”
Who takes on Koivu’s role on the Wild’s second line is unclear.
Luke Kunin had the first crack Thursday, but he was reunited with regular linemates Jordan Greenway and Joel Eriksson Ek on Saturday — a trio that’s been mostly effective. That paved the way for Victor Rask to get a look with wingers Zach Parise and Kevin Fiala vs. the Hurricanes, but that combination also didn’t appear to be a solution.
Call-up center Nico Sturm is waiting in the wings, but he’s suited for the bottom six. So, winger Ryan Donato, who took a test drive at center during training camp and has been skating up the middle on the fourth line, could be the next to audition.
“Somebody’s got to go in there and play,” Boudreau said. “That’s it. I don’t know how long Mikko’s going to be out. We can’t go out there with four guys on the ice when it’s that line.”
Overcoming the absence of Koivu and Spurgeon might not be easy, but it’s a must if the Wild is to build on what the team has recently accomplished.
“They’ve proven that they’re a good team, and expectations get higher now,” General Manager Bill Guerin said. “This has been a nice run, but we’re still early in the season. So, this is what you’re supposed to be. If we can play this well now, we can play this well every night. Those are the expectations.
“So, this has been a good run. But we got a lot of hockey to play.”