During this downtime in the schedule, the Wild has been able to survey the rest of the teams in the league and notice just how close the races for playoff spots are in both conferences.

And that’s a trend coach Bruce Boudreau doesn’t see changing any time soon.

“With the cap and most teams are playing to the cap these days, I see it being just as tight,” he said. “Every team’s going to have a down year every now and again, but they’ll regroup in a hurry.”

Even amid turnover like that, someone else is usually ready to swoop in and fill that gap.

Take the Central Division this season, with the Blackhawks slipping and failing to make the playoffs for the first time in 10 years. But the division has been just as rigorous since the Avalanche has orchestrated a turnaround to vie for a berth after completing last season in last place with 48 points.

“If you had asked me at the beginning of the year, you always think Chicago is going to be there and I don’t know if at the beginning of the year you would have thought Colorado was going to do as well as they have,” Boudreau said. “But after playing them four times, you kind of understand how good they are.”

Add in a team like the Predators that is coming off a run to the Stanley Cup final, a group in the Jets that has matured and the steady threats that are the Stars and Blues, and the Central has been the epitome of the parity that’s headlining the NHL.

“Winnipeg, we knew it was just a matter of time before they put it all together,” Boudreau said. “So they’ve always had great talent for the last few years. They’ve just never put it all together at the same time. You knew Nashville was going to be good. You knew St. Louis and Dallas with the offseason moves were going to be right up there.”

And not only has this caliber of competition made the rest of the season can’t-miss action, it’s also made the Wild eager to get back on the ice. After an optional session Thursday at Xcel Energy Center, the team will practice Friday and then finally suit up Saturday against the Predators at home.

“When you watch games that don’t go the way you want them to go, you want to play,” Boudreau said. “So we’ll have another good practice tomorrow and get prepared.”

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