LOS ANGELES – It was early November, the Wild was third to last in the Western Conference, and it had just lost 5-3 to the Bruins at the outset of a four-game road trip.
Coach Bruce Boudreau called the first 40 minutes against Boston — after which the Wild trailed 4-1 — “probably the most embarrassing two periods I’ve been involved with in a lot of teams.”
More was said in-house, with the team’s leaders — captain Mikko Koivu and veteran centers Eric Staal and Matt Cullen — sharing a message that preceded a surge by the Wild that ultimately culminated in it clinching a playoff berth earlier this week.
“The leaders just kind of let the group know, ‘I know it’s early but if you fall too far behind now, then it can be too steep of a hill to climb,’” goalie Devan Dubnyk recalled. “They say you can’t make the playoffs in October or November, but you can lose out of them. So you can’t be watching the standings at that point, but we understood that we needed to get our game in order and get it moving forward.”
Following that wake-up call, the Wild responded with a much improved effort in a 4-2 loss to the Maple Leafs on Nov. 8 and then turned in one of its signature wins of the season — 3-0 over the Canadiens.
“From that game on, we’ve been the team that we’ve expected to be,” Dubnyk said.
Considering how choppy the schedule was at the start, and amid roster turnover spurred by key injuries and subsequent rookie introductions, a rough debut wasn’t unthinkable for the Wild.
But the leaders seemed to pick the right time to remind the team of the importance of resiliency, an attribute that went on to become a hallmark of the 2017-18 Wild.
“It wasn’t a big, closed-door, emergency meeting,” Dubnyk said. “It was just a message they told the guys, ‘Look, we’ve been around for a long time. We need to get things going now before we fall too far behind.’ ”
The Wild bolstered its defensive depth Thursday, signing Louie Belpedio to a two-year, entry-level contract.
Belpedio will make his NHL debut Saturday against the Sharks in the Wild’s regular-season finale.
“I think I just need to play my game and do what got me here,” said Belpedio, who will wear No. 47. “At the end of the day, it’s hockey, right? Obviously, I’m around the best players in the world now, which makes it a little different. But I just gotta stick to my game and be simple and come every day with an open mind.”
The 21-year-old Belpedio spent the past four seasons at Miami (Ohio), scoring 25 goals and tallying 58 assists in 135 games, before joining the Iowa Wild last month on an amateur tryout. During that stint, he had two assists in 10 games.
A third-round choice (80th overall) in 2014, he is a smooth skater who can move the puck and has the ability to play both sides and in all situations.
• Defenseman Jared Spurgeon (right hamstring tear) will continue to skate in Minnesota rather than join the Wild on the road. “Because we clinched and we can’t go up or down [from the third spot in the Central Division], there’s no sense in bringing him,” Boudreau said. “He might be 85 percent right now. I think these next couple days at home rather than traveling back and forth will get him to 100 percent for next week.”
• Fellow blue liner Gustav Olofsson, who’s been dealing with a concussion, also has been skating and will probably meet up with the Wild for the game Saturday. Boudreau isn’t sure, though, if Olofsson will play.
• Ryan Suter had surgery on his right ankle Thursday.
• In Suter’s absence, Staal has been added as an alternate captain — a designation he also held while winger Zach Parise recovered from back surgery.
• Winger Tyler Ennis returned to the lineup Thursday against the Kings with Cullen getting the night off.