A nearly two-week timeout to clear up a COVID-19 outbreak didn't end up sabotaging the Wild, with the team emerging from the break with its best hockey of the year — a six-game win streak that launched it into the race for one of the top spots in the West Division.
But now the team is realizing another reality from having its season interrupted — almost nonstop action.
"That's what happens when you have to reschedule some games and games get thrown into your schedule that weren't originally there," goaltender Cam Talbot said.
The matchup with Vegas that starts Monday at Xcel Energy Center was always on the calendar.
Same with the four-game road swing the team just completed. But the trip before that was extended by two extra stops, the start of an eight-games-in-13-days crunch. And by Saturday, the Wild looked weary from that stretch — fading after the first period and getting flattened 5-2 by Arizona, finishing the week 1-2-1.
"It is going to be a grind," defenseman Ian Cole said. "We knew that going into it. It's always a grind. Obviously, a lot of games in a short amount of time. So, yeah, you get tired. But being tired is not excuse for hanging our goalie out to dry and playing the way we did."
This season was always going to be a sprint to the finish line, with the NHL rolling out a shortened 56-game campaign from mid-January through the beginning of May after it was stalled by the pandemic and didn't wrap up last season until late September. The plan is to then return with a normal schedule in October.
Getting shut down by the league because of COVID-19 only made the Wild's rundown even more rigorous. Only once the rest of the way will the team have more than a day in between games — a three-day lull March 26-28.
"We knew this season was going to be a grind," Cole said. "We had to play 56 games in four months. That's all the more reason to take care of yourself, get rest, get sleep."
A return to St. Paul might help rejuvenate the Wild, which is tied with San Jose for the fewest home games played (eight).
Dating to last season, the team has logged 17 of its past 25 contests on the road.
"It'll be great to be home and sleep in our own beds," Cole said. "I think you always get a little more energy when you get home."
Being on the road, however, hasn't been destructive.
Actually, coach Dean Evason credits the time together with helping unify the group since players are essentially living together, bonding at the hotel because they can't roam the cities under the NHL's new protocols for the season.
"We've got these common rooms that are massive," Evason said. "They've got pingpong tables. They've got pool tables, whatever it is in there. They've got the video games. They hang out together. So, it's essentially team building. I think it's been a real positive for our group."
And that camaraderie is what could help the Wild tackle the challenging lineup that awaits it.
"Honestly, we're like a bunch of kids playing the game we love and hanging out with our buddies," defenseman Brad Hunt said. "I think that's the thing when we look back on our careers, we'll look back on the times that we had fun. Obviously, this year is different, but everyone is in the same boat and we have to make it what it is.
"We have to have fun with it, and I think that makes the year feel not as long."