Despite being one of the most productive teams in the NHL since early November, the Wild hasn’t had much to show for its success.
The team sat in a playoff spot entering Friday’s slate of games but by just one point, the grim reality of being in a race that includes the majority of the Western Conference.
Scoreboard watching, as a result, isn’t typically a fruitful exercise for the group.
And while keeping tabs on its competition is expected, even if the help received is minimal to none, the Wild can dictate its own fate Saturday during a matinee at Xcel Energy Center against a Ducks squad that trails it by a point.
“That’s what makes the stretch run great in a lot of sports,” coach Bruce Boudreau said. “You see that you’re playing Western division foes and divisional foes coming down the stretch. So you usually have no excuses. It’s up to you to beat those teams if you want to succeed.”
Just days ago, the Wild held a three-point lead over the Ducks following its 3-2 win over the Rangers.
That Tuesday night was a rare instance of the Wild taking care of its own business and receiving a boost from the out-of-town scores. The Ducks and Kings — who are also close by in the standings — lost and fell three behind the Wild.
But a 5-2 loss to the Capitals on Thursday that ended the team’s franchise-record 13-game point streak on home ice, coupled with a Ducks victory over the Blackhawks, quickly trimmed the cushion the Wild had built.
“It’s nuts, and that’s just the way it’s going to be,” goalie Devan Dubnyk said. “You can’t let it bother you because you’re not going to win every single game between now and the end of the year. If you drop one and another team wins, that’s going to happen. You just gotta control what you can, and that starts tomorrow for us.”
At 2-1-1, this five-game homestand has been a mostly advantageous one for the Wild, with the team improving to 26-13-4 since Nov. 9. But how the players bounce back from the setback Thursday will be telling; it was just the fifth regulation loss suffered at home this season — unusual adversity for a group that has clearly found a dependable formula at Xcel Energy Center as one of the league’s top home teams.
“It was definitely different,” forward Charlie Coyle said. “We’ve been playing great at home, and we want to keep that up. Obviously, you can’t win every game at home. But you want to make sure once you have a game where you lose and you can work on some stuff, you can come right back and get it back to be feeling good again in this building. So I think that’s kind of our mind-set right now.”
It’s possible the Wild rolls out a new look to face the Ducks; center Matt Cullen was absent from practice Friday, taking a maintenance day, and his game status won’t be clear until Saturday morning. If winger Chris Stewart returns to the lineup, it would be his first appearance since Feb. 3 after five games as a healthy scratch.
Boudreau said he “may” tab Dubnyk to start against the Ducks. Dubnyk was on the hook for four of the five goals Thursday, with Boudreau calling all arguably soft goals.
“At the end of the day, I’m my biggest critic and every single game, win, loss, 45-save shutout, 10 goals against, I’m going to be reviewing the game and critiquing myself and being hard on myself and understanding things I would like to do differently or things I wouldn’t have done differently,” Dubnyk said. “To me, that’s all that matters.”
Lassoing momentum before embarking on a three-game road trip and remaining competitive as the NHL trade deadline looms are other reasons why this homestand finale is important. But the opportunity to hold off the Ducks may be the most glaring incentive.
“Each time you have a chance to get points, it’s important, and even more so when you can separate yourself from another team,” Dubnyk said.