The objective this week for the Wild is succinct: Clinch a playoff spot for the first time in five years.
“This is why we play all those games all year long,” coach Mike Yeo said. “We’ve got ourselves in a great spot. We did what we needed to do as far as getting a couple wins on the road and setting ourselves up here. So we’ve got a great opportunity ahead of ourselves.”
Four regular-season games remain for the Wild before the NHL playoffs begin Tuesday, April 30. The Wild is in seventh in the Western Conference and has a chance to cement the team’s first postseason berth since 2008 during a three-game homestand.
That starts Sunday at 5 p.m. against a hardworking Calgary Flames team that is doing a quality job making an impression on a front office that has its magnifying glass out.
Still, as Yeo said, “There’s a lot of reason for optimism. Obviously we have work to do here, but we should be excited about it.”
The Wild, after consecutive victories at Calgary and Edmonton last week, got clobbered 6-1 at San Jose on Thursday. After the game, captain Mikko Koivu and alternates Zach Parise and Ryan Suter huddled in an HP Pavilion hallway for several minutes.
On Saturday, Parise was asked what the meeting of the minds was about (for the record, eavesdropping Matt Cullen quipped that the “meeting of the minds” descriptor “is a bit of a stretch and very generous”).
“Brainstorming,” Parise said, laughing. “It’s important not to dwell on that game. At the end of the day, it was a bad game, so that’s what we were taking about. We just didn’t want a carry-over. It stunk at the time, but let’s forget about it and move on.
“It’s important for us guys that have played in the postseason to carry that message and convey it to the guys. In the playoffs, it doesn’t matter if you lose 10-1 or 1-0 in overtime. A loss is a loss. It’s important to move on and always think about tomorrow’s game.”
So that was the message before Saturday’s focused, energetic practice in Mendota Heights: Erase Thursday. Concentrate on Sunday.
“That’s our mentality as a team,” said Devin Setoguchi, who is only 26 but has played 48 playoff games for San Jose. “Anybody who has been to the postseason knows it’s a day-by-day thing. You’ve got to show up, put in the work for your day, forget about that day and then show up and do same thing the next day no matter what happens the day before.”
The key this week is for the Wild to continue to build its game so it enters the postseason on a high. That means playing aggressively, getting pucks deep and going to work in the offensive zone so it plays less in the defensive zone.
“You want to get in the playoffs feeling good about your game and have that momentum going your way,” said Jason Pominville, who continues to be a big trade deadline acquisition. “It is an important week. It started with a bounceback game [Sunday].”
Throw out the Sharks game, and the top line of Parise, Koivu and Charlie Coyle continues to play well. Yeo has unearthed a quality line by assembling Pierre-Marc Bouchard, Kyle Brodziak and Pominville.
The one line that has had trouble rediscovering that chemistry from before Cullen’s six-game absence to injury is Jason Zucker-Cullen-Setoguchi.
Setoguchi, who scored 12 goals during a 23-game stretch from Feb. 9 to March 29, has been blanked in 11 consecutive games. Zucker has no points in four games since being recalled from AHL Houston.
“We still have a ways to go,” Setoguchi said. “We’ve got to create more. Last game wasn’t the greatest, but we didn’t have an easy matchup against [Brent] Burns and [Joe] Thornton and we didn’t give them too much.
“So that should be a confidence booster for our line. But we have a lot more we can give. It’s just a matter of finding it again. That’s going north and skating and winning puck battles. We haven’t been winning enough lately, and that’s why we’ve been chasing the puck.”
It was clear Saturday players were upbeat and excited to be home. But were they too comfortable to be home?
“It would be really hard to believe that we could be too comfortable right now,” Yeo said. “The urgency level should be very high. We should approach these games with a feeling of confidence. The key is to have that urgency but not to be uptight.
“As long as we put our head on the right way and prepare the right way, then we should feel good.”