The Wild's schedule is about to intensify, and the timing might not be better.
After a couple of close games against teams near the bottom of the NHL standings, the Wild's next four opponents are all in a playoff position, starting Monday with Seattle at Xcel Energy Center.
This could be just the challenge the Wild need to defend their newfound perch atop the Central Division after finally prying first place away from Dallas.
"It's weird. It's like we play a little better against better teams," goalie Filip Gustavsson said. "So, I think we should be fine on Monday against Seattle. I think we're going to be back in our groove and the right mind-set."
A 3-1 victory over Chicago on Saturday did start to turn the page for the Wild while also helping them move one point ahead of the Stars for the No. 1 seed in the division.
Yes, they needed two goals in the last 71 seconds of the game to shrug off the Blackhawks, who have 18 fewer victories and 39 less points than the Wild, but they were much cleaner compared to their 5-4 shootout loss at Philadelphia on Thursday.
"We know we can't play like this against better teams," said Gustavsson, who stopped 22 shots Sunday, "and we kind of need to put the foot on the gas a little bit."
With the Blackhawks and Flyers in a different ZIP code from the playoff pace in their respective conferences, their stakes weren't the same as the Wild's, but that's going to change beginning with the Kraken.
Seattle is in a wild card seat, but the team is only three points back from third in the Pacific Division and three ahead of the second wild card. Then the Wild face reigning Stanley Cup champion Colorado, and the Avalanche are chasing them in the Central Division. After that, there's a home-and-home vs. Vegas, which is vying to win the Pacific, before a trip to Pittsburgh to take on the Penguins, who are in the Eastern Conference's wild card race.
Overall, seven of the Wild's final nine regular-season games are against clubs in a playoff spot or battling for one.
"You want to be playing these teams," Ryan Reaves said. "They're going to be ramping it up, so we've got to make sure we're doing the same."