ST. LOUIS – The Blues aren’t the only division opponent the Wild has to try to pry points from to improve its chances of clinching a playoff spot, as the Avalanche and Stars could be equally — if not more — influential to the Wild’s bid.
But the matchups with the Blues seem to ignite a little more energy. Previous meetings in the postseason have stoked their rivalry.
“Come playoff time, it’s a whole other beast, whole other animal,” winger Jason Zucker said. “So those are ones that you definitely hold in the memory bank a little longer.”
That awareness of the teams’ history was clear Tuesday during the teams’ second-to-last battle of the regular season; the finale is Feb. 27 in St. Paul.
After eliminating the Wild in five games last spring in the first round of the playoffs — after the Wild knocked out the Blues in 2015 — the Blues might have the current edge in a series that sits at 2-1 Wild with Tuesday’s 6-2 victory. But the back-and-forth nature of the duels seems to sustain the competitive vibe.
“They play a similar style to us, as well,” goalie Devan Dubnyk said. “They play a tight game, hard-checking game. They have good players and good offensive ability, as well. The fact we play them [four] times a year, they’re always emotional games. They’re always huge games, and most of the time they’re close.”
The feeling from the other bench is mutual.
“Two very good, competitive hockey teams going head to head as much as you do, it’s going to bring out some nastiness and some intensity,” said Blues bench boss and former Wild coach Mike Yeo. “I would say that that type of familiarity — both them with us and us with them — certainly makes it intense, fun hockey.”
Before coming up empty in two chances Saturday at Dallas, the Wild’s power play had tallied at least one goal in seven consecutive games, its longest streak since the unit went eight consecutive games with at least a goal Feb. 17-March 4, 2007.
The team’s 8-for-23 run dating to Jan. 13 led the NHL, a 34.8 percent efficiency that coach Bruce Boudreau credits to a simplified approach.
“You don’t see a lot of the fancy goals,” he said. “What you see is guys getting shots from the point and going to the net and outnumbering the opposition in front of the net three-to-two because you’ve got that ability to do that.”
The Prosser effect
Defenseman Nate Prosser made his first appearance in St. Louis with the Wild since the team claimed him off waivers from the Blues Nov. 30.
Since his season debut with the Wild, the team had gone 16-9-2 entering Tuesday’s game. It went 12-10-3 in the season’s first 25 games sans Prosser.
“Not saying Pross is the only reason that we are where we are,” Dubnyk said. “But you look at how we’ve really settled down defensively since he came back, he’s been a big part of it.”
The Wild changed up its look to face the Blues, inserting veteran center Matt Cullen and defenseman Gustav Olofsson into the lineup. Both sat out Saturday.
Winger Chris Stewart and defenseman Mike Reilly were the odd men out; it is the fourth scratch for Stewart in the past seven games.
Cullen returned on the third line, anchoring wingers Zach Parise and Charlie Coyle — a promotion Boudreau hopes highlights the experience Cullen, a three-time Stanley Cup champion, can provide the Wild the rest of the way.
“That’s why he’s playing with Parise and Coyle [Tuesday],” Boudreau said. “He’s got a good offensive mind. He’s been fourth line the last couple years in Pittsburgh and most of the year with us. But if I were him, I’d be, ‘I’m playing with Parise and Coyle and given a chance to show what I really have.’ So hopefully that works out.”