The Wild spent part of its holiday on the ice at Xcel Energy Center for a tune-up Thursday before a critical three-game stretch against the Central Division that begins Friday when the team hosts the Avalanche.
“We really know that our division in itself is very, very competitive with no weak sisters at all,” coach Bruce Boudreau said. “So we have to really bear down against these guys, and we have to beat them if we want to gain on them. I think we know the importance of the next three games.”
After facing Colorado, the Wild will depart for a two-game road trip to St. Louis (Saturday) and Winnipeg (Monday). Those two games could be particularly telling, as the Blues are atop the Central Division with 33 points and the Jets sit second with 29. The Predators are third (28 points), and then the remaining teams in the division (the Avalanche, Blackhawks, Wild and Stars) are all tied with 23 points – a cluster Boudreau likened to a golf tournament, as he expects the pack to stay together for much of the competition before narrowing down at the end.
“We gotta take it game by game,” center Charlie Coyle said. “So focus on tomorrow and move on when we’re over with that one. But we gotta get these points against these guys as much as we can here. It’s going to pay off down the road.”
Winger Daniel Winnik and defenseman Jared Spurgeon took maintenance days and didn’t participate in practice, but both are good to go, Boudreau said. The lines from Wednesday’s 5-4 win over the Sabres remained intact, while Kyle Quincey worked next to Gustav Olofsson on defense.
Boudreau didn’t reveal which goalie will start Friday, the beginning of a back-to-back.
“I gotta believe that they’ll both play (this weekend),” he said.
Jason Zucker-Eric Staal-Nino Niederreiter
Marcus Foligno-Charlie Coyle-Tyler Ennis
Chris Stewart-Matt Cullen-Zack Mitchell
Ryan Suter-Jared Spurgeon
Jonas Brodin-Matt Dumba
Gustav Olofsson-Mike Reilly
3: Straight wins by the Wild over the Avalanche.
5-1-1: The Wild's record in its last seven games.
6: Goals by winger Nino Niederreiter during a career-long five-game goal streak.
1.70: Wild goalie Alex Stalock's goals-against average in four games against the Avalanche.
4: Goals by winger Mikael Granlund in his last two games.
About the Avalanche:
The Avalanche has won two straight and is coming off a 3-0 win over the Stars on Wednesday. Goalie Jonathan Bernier will start with No.1 Semyon Varlamov dealing with illness. Bernier is 4-4 with a 3.14 goals-against average and .899 save percentage in eight games. Center Nathan MacKinnon has been key for Colorado. He has a team-best 25 points and posted three assists in the team's most recent win.