COLUMBUS, Ohio – With the Western Conference standings starting to squeeze more tightly around the slumping Wild, players believe a victory Sunday night over the Columbus Blue Jackets could lower the anxiety temperature a couple of degrees.
“We’ve just got to reset,” said Ryan Suter, the No. 1 defenseman on a team that has gone from winning seven games in a row to losing four of its past five. “Throughout the year, you go through things like this.
“What we’ve got to remember we’re in a good place right now. It’s good to have your destiny in your hands. And that’s how we feel. If we come out and play the way we’re capable of playing, the way we’ve seen we can play in the past, we’ll be just fine.”
Standing in Minnesota’s way will be a couple of familiar faces.
Marian Gaborik will make his home debut in a Blue Jackets sweater against the team he grew up with and still leads in virtually every offensive category. Todd Richards, who preceded Mike Yeo as Wild coach, has led a remarkable Blue Jackets turnaround since Scott Howson was fired as general manager.
The Blue Jackets, three points out of a playoff spot, have lost three times in regulation in the past 19 games and are 9-0-3 at home since Feb. 10. They are a hardworking, fast team, so the Wild, four points ahead of ninth place, knows it will have to match Columbus’ desperation.
“We just have to get back to focusing on the little things,” Yeo said. “Right now we’re making big mistakes. It’s a turnover, it’s a line change, it’s one thing after another.”
That was exemplified in Thursday’s loss at Los Angeles where all three goals came after offensive-zone turnovers. The last two goals were compounded by poor line changes.
The good news is on Saturday at Nationwide Arena, the Wild actually threw on its practice sweaters and took the ice for its first full practice in 14 days.
“It’s weird,” Yeo said. “Seriously, I’m having a tough time remembering the last time we had a practice, let alone a real practice, where we actually got to work on a couple parts of our game.”
After playing eight games in 13 nights incorporating tough travel, Yeo expects that the two non-game days between Thursday and Sunday should help refocus the mind and recoup the team’s tired legs.
“We should be back to full energy and that should no longer be an excuse for us,” he said.
The Wild will have to overcome another game without veterans Matt Cullen and Dany Heatley. The hope originally was that Cullen, who is so important to the Wild’s success, could meet the team in Columbus, but that was wishful thinking. He has missed the three-game road trip because of a lower-body injury.
Heatley wound up traveling with the team to Columbus for treatment, but he will miss his second game because of an upper-body injury that could keep him out for awhile.
Regardless, Zach Parise says the Wild can’t make excuses such as fatigue and injuries. It just needs to correct some glaring mistakes lately.
“It’s not from a lack of effort,” Parise said. “The effort’s been there. We’ve been making mental errors that we weren’t making before. We’re doing things that are costing us, and that’s a good thing. They’re correctable mistakes and we talked about the things we need to tighten up.”
The Wild is ready to look at these final 11 games as a postseason tuneup.
“We need to get into a playoff mentality where we can’t let those two games that we played [loses in San Jose and Los Angeles] drag into the Columbus game, because if we win [Sunday], we’ll feel good about ourselves and be in good shape,” Parise said.
Spirits were high Saturday, and frankly, as stressful as things have been over the three-game losing streak, the Wild still is in decent shape. Seven of the Wild’s final 11 games are against teams outside the top eight in the West, and there are two three-game homestands left.
“Let’s just go for it and get our swagger and confidence back,” Suter said.