DENVER – This could have been the beginning of the end for the Wild.
Playing its first game in two weeks and still missing a chunk of its lineup, the team limped through a 4-0 shellacking courtesy the Kings Feb. 16 in Los Angeles – the Wild's return to action after a COVID-19 outbreak shut down the season and was still sidelining many key regulars.
But instead of that game setting the tone for the rest of a season-defining road trip, it emerged as the outlier.
The Wild hasn't lost since then, winning four in a row after finishing out its five-game trek with a definitive 6-2 victory over the Avalanche Wednesday at Ball Arena that catapulted the team right back into the West Division playoff race.
"We weren't worried," coach Dean Evason said about his mindset after that setback in Los Angeles. "We competed. We competed our butts off in that game, and that's what we've done. Yeah, it's nice to get people back. But the people that were playing then, too, were battling and competing and doing the right things. We gotta believe as a group that regardless of who's in the lineup and what given night and what situation that everyone's going to pull for each other and we're going to battle."
Like the Wild, Zach Parise also rebounded during the trip.
He shrugged out of a nine-game goalless slump Wednesday after tipping a Matt Dumba shot past Colorado goalie Philipp Grubauer in the second period.
The goal came after Parise had come close to scoring the previous game in San Jose. But overall, the drought was rough for him. In two games, he didn't even register a shot on goal.
"Grind is an understatement," Parise said. "It's been kind of swimming upstream for a while. Went a few games without even getting chances. It was a tough stretch, but I like the way that [Ryan] Hartman and Marcus [Foligno] and I are playing right now. We're getting good chances."
Moving Hartman from right wing to center has been one of the most fruitful decisions the Wild has made this season.
He had another two-point effort, extending his point streak to a career-long four games after setting up Foligno's shorthanded game winner and then scoring a goal himself.
"He's a competitor," Evason said. "If you play him up lineup, down the lineup, wherever, he plays hard. There were some nights early in the season, I remember going to him the next day. I think he played 7 minutes or 7 1/2 minutes. I apologized to him. I said that's not the intention. He got lost a little bit. He said, 'That's OK. I'll do my job.' And that's the type of guy he is. What he's doing, it's not a surprise to us."
Aside from the solid play throughout the lineup, the night was full of milestones.
Parise recorded his 800th career point on his goal, Mats Zuccarello reached the 400-point plateau and Kevin Fiala skated in Game No.300.
Zuccarello also became the sixth player in Wild history to score the team's first goal in three consecutive games, and Kirill Kaprizov became the first Wild rookie to tally three straight multi-point games.
Another memorable moment came late in the third period when Nico Sturm scored his first two regular-season goals, the first on a breakaway and the second into an empty net.
"When he scored his goal, it's as excited as our group has been all year," Evason said. "It's nice for a guy like that to get rewarded like that."