NEW YORK – As the logjam in the Western Conference became increasingly congested in recent weeks, the Wild loitered a bit above the fray, surveying the stop-and-go cluster behind a cushion that wasn’t exactly comfortable but was still noticeable.
But with only one win in its past six games, its buffer has busted.
A 2-1 loss to the Islanders on Sunday at Barclays Center combined with a Blues win earlier in the day dropped the Wild from the first wild-card seed to the second, its first fall since it slid from the third slot in the Central Division after its first game back from an eight-day layoff.
“At some point, we’ve got to get off the win-one-lose-one wagon or it’s just going to be — now that everybody’s caught us — it’s going to be the same thing,” coach Bruce Boudreau said. “So we have to put a run together. St. Louis has started. Chicago has started. L.A.’s started. All these teams have put runs together. We have to do it, or we will be golfing early.”
St. Louis, which was previously reeling as a bottom-feeder, has scaled the standings. The Blues and Wild both have 59 points, but St. Louis has played two fewer games.
“You start seeing teams creeping up,” goalie Devan Dubnyk said. “You see St. Louis pop into a playoff spot, and you know it’s real and everybody’s there.”
Not since the Wild ranked among NHL leaders after a steady run at the end of October and into November has it been in a cushy position. But winger Zach Parise has noticed the team’s urgency wane at times.
“Sometimes it does feel like it’s missing,” he said. “But now it’s either you play that way or we’re going to be passed by quite a few teams. So we gotta start playing like we want to make the playoffs.”
Parise isn’t sure why that vibe hasn’t been a constant, but he recognizes it must guide the Wild the rest of the way.
“That’s kind of been the tale of our season,” he said. “Good stretches and then lulls.”
This latest stretch certainly qualifies.
Although the Islanders top the Metropolitan Division and have won 16 of their past 21 games, the Wild didn’t have the same pop that helped it to a 4-2 victory over the Devils on Saturday. As a result, it’s 1-5 in its past six games.
Dubnyk played on consecutive days for the first time this season.
While Boudreau acknowledged tabbing backup Alex Stalock to face the Islanders wouldn’t have been fair since the team didn’t hold morning skates ahead of two afternoon games this weekend, keeping Dubnyk in the net also was indicative of that urgency the team feels to bank points.
“Sometimes it’s nice,” Dubnyk said. “You just kind of roll in from the previous game, and you get that feeling of the flow of the game. Sometimes it’s just easier to jump in there and keep it going. Obviously, it’s important for Al to get games, too. But I certainly don’t mind playing them when the time’s right.”
Center of attention
Mikael Granlund broke a 14-game skid when he scored just his third goal in 39 games, his first since he switched to center for the outset of this two-game road trip. “It really doesn’t matter for me if I’m a winger or a center,” he said. “But maybe being at center gets you skating a little bit more, and obviously if you get the puck in the middle, you have more space to work with. It’s been fun.”