The Wild’s stint as the third seed in the Central Division after its win Thursday lasted about the length of a double feature at the movie theater – a.k.a. not much longer than the time it took to shrug off the Devils and leap over the Stars before Dallas responded with its own victory to reclaim the spot.
But with the Stars idle Friday, the Wild had a chance to rank among the division leaders for more than the approximate three-and-a-half hours it previously held the post.
And the team pounced on the opportunity by holding off the Rangers 4-1 at Madison Square Garden.
“We are just building to make the playoffs,” coach Bruce Boudreau said. “We don't care if it's first, second, third. There's not a weak team in the Top 10. It doesn't matter. We just want to get there.”
It’s possible the Wild’s stay in the third hole is short-lived again. The Stars are back in action Saturday when it’s the Wild’s turn to take a break, and so the game of leapfrog could continue.
“It’s one night away from being back down in the wild card,” goalie Devan Dubnyk said. “We just have to treat it the same way. Every time we play a game it’s an opportunity to get points, and that’s what we have to do. We can’t sit back and hope other teams lose because one, there’s just too many good teams. And two, there’s too many teams. They’re not all going to lose, so the only thing we can do is get points.”
Aside from being plenty of competition, there’s also a chunk of the schedule remaining. Factor in the looming trade deadline Monday, and the outlook for a number of teams could change quickly.
But the Wild getting within striking distance of a division berth is progress, and that’s certainly worth acknowledging.
“It's the first time in a lot of months that we've been able to jump in there,” Dubnyk said. “We have been working and chipping away at getting in the top three of our division, and we've made it there. We just have to work to continue to climb.”
Here’s what else to watch for after the Wild’s win over the Rangers.
- It’s probably frightening for the Wild to imagine what its season would look like if center Eric Staal wasn’t contributing like he has.
Take a look at Friday’s offering: two goals, two assists, plus-3 and 15 minutes, 52 seconds of ice time.
It was his 15th multi-point game of the season, but what was perhaps most impressive about the performance was how he helped spark winger Mikael Granlund out of his scoring slump.
“I’ve played with a lot of guys over the years in Carolina,” Staal said. “I went a lot of years with a lot of different linemates. I learned that you can’t get worked up about lines and people you’re with. You’ve got to play. It doesn’t matter. I’m still getting on the ice, and I’m still playing. So whoever I’m with, I’ll do my best to play my game to help whoever I’m playing with to bring success and help the team win. That’s the main goal. That hasn’t changed over the years.”
- It looked like Granlund had scored a hat trick since Staal’s first goal was initially credited to Granlund.
“Granny had a few more looks,” Staal said. “We each could have had a few more.”
And aside from climbing out of his scoring slump, as Granlund’s two goals were his first in 12 games, that might be the most encouraging takeaway from the game; Granlund looked electric, and perhaps that continues beyond Friday.
“When he's on and he's feeling it like that, every time he touches the puck he's a threat to do something good with it,” coach Bruce Boudreau said. “It was fun to watch, especially after he got his first goal. I think he felt a little bit of relief there, and he started to go after that.”
- The Wild’s play away from home has improved dramatically of late, with this the team’s fourth straight win on the road after sweeping the three-game trip through New York and New Jersey.
“I think we’ve become a little more comfortable and confident within our game regardless of the situation or the score,” Staal said. “We were down two in Jersey. We were down in Long Island, but we stayed with our game and kept playing. I thought just a little better of a consistent effort, 60 minutes, and when you have depth, different guys step up. It starts to snowball, and I think you get a better vibe and feeling. We’ve had that lately.”