They chased each other up the ice and vied for the puck along the boards.
In front of the net, the battle continued as they jostled for space.
“It’s never fun boxing out [Charlie] Coyle or [Marcus] Foligno,” defenseman Nate Prosser said after practice Wednesday at Xcel Energy Center.
For the next two days, the only competition Wild players will encounter on the ice will be themselves, as the team is in the midst of a four-day layoff.
But when the group does resume playing Saturday, it’ll be the start of a nine-game push to the finish line that’s headlined by some of the best teams in the league — a challenge the Wild is eager to embrace as a tuneup for the playoff pressure it hopes to be experiencing soon.
“It’ll just prepare us even more,” winger Zach Parise said. “They’re going to be hard games. … There’s no easy wins. With the schedule that we’ve got coming up and the teams we’re playing, it’s all playoff teams, playoff-caliber teams.”
Of the Wild’s nine remaining games, six are against teams in a playoff position and two are against the Stars, who are still very much in contention.
As for the rest of the field, there’s the Central Division-leading Predators, who have already clinched a postseason invite; the Bruins, who have the second-most points in the Eastern Conference; and some of the most competitive tests the Pacific Division has to offer in the Ducks, Kings and Sharks.
The season ends with three games in four days on the West Coast.
“You feel like all these teams are either fighting to get in or fighting for seeding,” Parise said. “So the importance on all the games the rest of the year, you’re going to get a lot of tight checking, tough games like [Monday] was. So we’ve got to make sure we’re prepared to play that style.”
Just one of the Wild’s final opponents, the Oilers, is in the bottom third of the standings.
But the Wild would rather have a loaded schedule than a softer one since it’ll offer an accurate primer of what to expect once the regular season ends.
“This is how it’s going to be played,” goalie Devan Dubnyk said. “This is how the game’s going to be played in the playoffs. There’s going to be that sense of urgency from the teams we’re playing, and that’s important to have. … So it’s obviously a difficult schedule, but we’re more than capable of playing against anybody in the league.”
On Monday, the Wild and Kings looked like teams hungry for points. And that desperation became more apparent as the game progressed, with the Wild overcoming a two-goal hole to take a lead in the third period before Los Angeles tied it in the final minute of regulation to set up its 4-3 overtime win.
“Real tight checking and guys playing hard, not a lot of room out there both ways,” Dubnyk said. “You knew it was going to be a bounce one way or the other.”
It seems impossible to completely duplicate the atmosphere that hovers over the postseason, when the margin for error is razor thin.
Add in the win-or-go-home reality that looms, and the vibe is unique.
“It’s intense to finish here,” center Eric Staal said. “But it’s another level when playoffs start.”
Still, getting used to performing under some degree of urgency is probably a better setup than the alternative.
“We want to be playing well here down the stretch,” Staal said. “Naturally, these games are going to be intense and tight because of where we’re at and how many teams are competing for position and playoff spots. I don’t think anything’s going to change for us. We have to perform every night. We have to be ready to go.”