A five-game winning streak made the most meaningful impact on the Wild in the standings, lifting the team to a wild-card spot in the Western Conference after five consecutive losses dropped it from one.
But that’s not all this run affected.
It also restored the players’ confidence, a well-timed boost that the group hopes will continue to help it navigate a challenging schedule that picks up Tuesday with a rematch against the Predators in Nashville at the outset of a three-game road trip.
“Lately, every time we go on the ice, we think we’re going to win,” coach Bruce Boudreau said. “We don’t think something bad is going to happen to us. We are going to get the lead, and we’re going to hold it.”
Before playing the Predators on Sunday at Xcel Energy Center, that had become the norm for the Wild.
In four of those recent five victories, the Wild scored first and never trailed. And when it did fall behind, last Tuesday in Winnipeg, the team was still competitive enough to be in position to rally — which it did in dramatic fashion, burying two goals in the final 1 minute, 27 seconds of play to stun the Jets 3-2.
Another Wild comeback seemed to be in the works Sunday. Two goals in quick succession near the end of the second period flipped a deficit into a lead, but steady pressure from the Predators eventually tied it at 2 before they eked out a four-round 3-2 shootout victory.
The point the Wild earned was still valuable — and impressive considering the team played in Calgary the night before — but perhaps what was just as important was the impression from players after the game that their newfound swagger wasn’t shaken by the loss.
“If we play our game, we feel we can play with anyone or beat anybody,” winger Jason Zucker said.
Considering the strategy the Wild has relied on and the caliber of teams it’s successfully leveraged that approach against, it makes sense why the group feels emboldened.
In going 5-0-1 during its past six games, the Wild has surrendered one or two goals each time out — exactly the kind of stingy defending and goaltending that separate the contenders from pretenders at this juncture of the season.
And after a gruesome scoring drought, the offense has been rekindled with at least three goals in all but two of those games. Zucker has buried three over his past four games, while center Eric Staal has eight points during a season-high six-game point streak.
“When you can’t find a way to win and then you get it turned around and guys are starting to smile a little more and have that confidence with the puck, it’s good to see,” defenseman Ryan Suter said.
This combination has enabled the Wild to shrug off two non-playoff opponents, the New York Rangers and Detroit Red Wings, and go 3-0-1 against the Blues, Jets, Flames and Predators.
The daunting stretch culminates with Nashville on Tuesday and the NHL-leading Tampa Bay Lightning on Thursday.
“We played some pretty good teams in the last three games, and we might’ve got outshot, but we played them on an even keel,” Boudreau said. “It’s very uplifting and positive. It’s not going to get easier. It’s just something we know we can do when we put our mind to it.”
Since this six-game test came not too long after a five-game slide and amid a flurry of trades, it looked as if it could damage the team’s psyche while also sabotaging its playoff hopes.
Instead, the Wild is entrenched in the race amid a renewed conviction that could end up being the most significant legacy of its recent surge.
“I think any athlete or team, when your back’s kind of against the wall,” Suter said, “you find that extra gear and you play with that extra desperation that you need to win.”