Only five players--Justin Fontaine, Jordan Schroeder, Matt Dumba, Christian Folin and Niklas Backstrom--took part in the Wild's optional practice Sunday morning at Xcel Energy Center. Coach Mike Yeo stayed off the ice, too.

With his team riding a five-game winning streak--and two critical games looming, against Vancouver and Winnipeg on Monday and Tuesday--Yeo gave his players only one directive. He reminded them not to look back at either the recent victories or the long slide that put them in such a deep hole in the Western Conference standings. The only way to emerge is to keep looking forward, Yeo said.

The coach plans to keep the current lineup intact when the Wild plays Vancouver on Monday at Xcel. That means Fontaine, who missed two games because of a groin injury before resuming practice Friday, will remain out of the lineup for the fourth game in a row. Folin has been a healthy scratch for the past four games.

Goaltender Darcy Kuemper was recalled Sunday and will be back in Minnesota on Monday. Devan Dubnyk will start against the Canucks, but Kuemper could get the call Tuesday at Winnipeg. Dubnyk has started all nine games since he was acquired on Jan. 14, and Yeo wants to be careful with him now that the schedule is ramping up with three games in four days, including a back-to-back.

"You want to ride the hot hand, and he's playing great,'' Yeo said of Dubnyk, who has four shutouts, a 1.31 goals-against average and .948 save percentage with the Wild. "That said, we want to make sure we're giving him a good chance to be successful and we're not burning him out. And on top of that, (Kuemper) has played well against Winnipeg.''

Kuemper went 2-3 in his five games in Iowa with a 3.22 goals-against average and .891 save percentage. He stopped 28 of 30 shots in a 3-2 home victory over Winnipeg on Dec. 29.

Yeo said he isn't frustrated that the Wild hasn't climbed much closer in the standings, despite a five-game win streak. After Saturday's games, the Wild was five points behind Calgary for the second wild-card playoff berth and six behind Winnipeg for the first wild-card spot.

"That’s just the reality when you're chasing as many teams as we were,'' Yeo said. "Somebody's going to be winning. We've been able to pass a few teams and make up a little bit of ground, and we also have some games in hand. We knew with where we were three weeks ago, when you're chasing that many teams, it wasn’t like we were just going to go win five games in a row and all of a sudden be where we need to be. We put ourselves in a pretty deep hole, and it takes a lot of time to get out of that.''

Yeo reiterated that the Wild cannot fall into the trap of feeling too pleased with itself, particularly with two more games this week against teams it is chasing. "Obviously, these games are huge,'' he said. "We're still taking that same approach before the road trip. We can't get caught up looking at the standings. We can't get caught up looking at three games from now. We certainly can't get caught up looking at what we've done in the past five games. The only thing that matters is tomorrow's game, and that will be a tough test.''

RACHEL BLOUNT

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