Had the order been reversed and the Wild closed out the week — and 2017 — with a pair of wins after beginning it with a loss, the sentiment would be different.
“You’d be feeling pretty good right now,” coach Bruce Boudreau said. “But when you get two in this world, you get greedy. You want three, and three was there for us.”
The Wild’s bid for a sweep of Central Division opponents after the Christmas break following victories over the Stars and Predators was nixed Saturday in a 3-0 loss in Nashville that injected a sense of disappointment over the group — especially since it played the Predators even for two periods, with the home squad not pulling away until the third.
That frustration amid the day-to-day grind is important fuel, but take a bird’s-eye view on the three-game, four-night run and banking four out of a possible six points against teams the Wild is competing with for playoff positioning is significant.
And it could be just the push the team needs to gain momentum this week at home before the schedule, once again, introduces a division opponent.
“Every week is going to be a grind,” Boudreau said. “You just gotta hope to win the week, and eventually that takes care of itself.”
After playing host to the Panthers on Tuesday and Sabres on Thursday to begin 2018 and officially wrap the first half of the season, the Wild returns to the road to face another Central Division foe — the Avalanche — on Saturday.
While the gap between last-place Colorado and first-place Nashville was a comfortable 12 points after Saturday, the separation between the Avalanche and the Wild was way slimmer, at four. And although it’s the teams ahead of the Wild that it is looking to leapfrog, it’s essential to keep as many teams as possible in the rearview mirror — a reality that ensures the remaining 13 games against the Central are meaningful after the Wild went 6-7 through the first 13.
“It’s definitely going to be tight,” center Matt Cullen said. “I don’t think anybody doubts that. The last little bit here, we as a group here feel like we’re improving as a team. We’re getting closer to where we want to be. There’s an opportunity against some division teams to gain some traction.”
All points, regardless of which division the opposition calls home, are valuable, and another four from battles with Florida and Buffalo would be huge. Playing at home could help. The Wild continues to thrive on Xcel Energy Center ice, with 26 of its 43 points — about 60 percent — earned in St. Paul.
But the arrival of some key reinforcements may also be a catalyst.
Boudreau believes there’s a chance injured wingers Nino Niederreiter and Zach Parise will play this week.
Niederreiter has been sidelined since suffering a lower-body injury Dec. 22 that put him in a boot, while Parise has yet to debut this season after undergoing back surgery in October.
Getting both players back in the lineup would put the Wild at full strength for the first time this season, and that may be the best way to combat the rest of the schedule.
“It’s going to help tremendously,” forward Charlie Coyle said. “We’re really looking forward to that. We’ve had a lot of adversity so far this year, but guys have stepped up. Guys have played more roles, different roles, and they’ve played well at it. To get those guys back, to get our full team, that’s what we need. We need everyone.”