When the Wild restarted its season after a COVID-19 outbreak sidelined more than half the roster, the team could have been swallowed up by the adversity — especially after it was overwhelmed 4-0 in its return to action.
"I try to forget about those games," Ryan Suter said.
But the Wild didn't just rebound from the loss.
What happened next was a group that played its best hockey of the season and becoming the third team in the NHL this year to secure a playoff spot.
"It's been a great season," Marcus Foligno said. "It's been a lot of fun. A lot of big wins, some ups and downs, but a lot more ups, and that's a successful season."
The Wild officially clinched a playoff berth Saturday night with a season-high seventh straight victory, outlasting San Jose 6-3 to advance to the postseason for the eighth time over the past nine years. But the accomplishment had been in the works for months.
Since Feb. 18, the team's first game after that 4-0 letdown at Los Angeles, the Wild leads the NHL in points (53) and is tied for first in victories (25) with Pittsburgh.
Not only has the team never lost more than two games in a row in that span — or at all this season — but it produced win streaks of at least five games three times.
"We've found a way to get this thing building," Suter said.
Goaltending has been the bedrock.
Cam Talbot is rolling, winning 14 of his past 21 starts. Currently, he's on a 6-0-1 tear with a .932 save percentage and 2.12 goals-against average.
But before Talbot seized the spotlight, backup Kaapo Kahkonen had it.
This post-shutdown climb started with Kahkonen anchoring the crease while Talbot was sidelined by the COVID protocols. Kahkonen ended up rattling off nine consecutive victories, and he now holds the record for wins in a Wild season by a rookie goalie with 14.
"He's been probably one of the biggest reasons why we are where we are right now in the standings," Foligno said.
As the points began to pile up, the power play finally began to click after getting off to the worst start in the NHL. Since March 10, no one has scored more power-play goals in the league than the Wild's 22.
"We knew we were doing a lot of right things on it," coach Dean Evason said. "The guys were battling. They were getting the opportunities. It wasn't every single night we were getting chances, but there were some nights that we were getting seven, eight, nine chances a game, and it just wasn't going in the net. Credit to our group that the guys just stayed with it."
Now that the power play is functioning, its emergence has illuminated another key for the Wild — its balanced scoring.
Aside from having the most players (18) in the NHL with 10-plus points recorded exclusively with the team, the Wild also has the most players (16) with five-plus goals.
"You can see that every line's been contributing," captain Jared Spurgeon said. "When one line's not doing something, it's another line stepping up. So, it's been a whole team effort."
Lately, the Wild's most skilled forwards have been its leaders.
Rookie Kirill Kaprizov has six goals on a five-game goal streak that's the longest by any rookie in team history. Kevin Fiala is also cruising, with three goals and three assists during a four-game point streak.
The Wild's best line from early in the season has also regained that title, as Jordan Greenway, Joel Eriksson Ek and Foligno continue to set the tone. They combined for 10 points on the team's road trip last week.
"We put a label on that they're our checking line or our defensively sound line, and we do play them at home, especially against the other team's what we deem is their top unit," Evason said. "But they all have the ability to score goals, and what makes them special is they're super hard to play against because they usually do the right things."
While Wild players and coaches know they are playoff-bound, they haven't firmed up where they will finish in the West Division and who they will face in the first round.
That's at stake in these last nine games, as is the opportunity to keep this momentum going.
"Bad things happen when you take the game a little lightly, and we definitely don't want to be a team that does that," Foligno said. "These next games leading into playoffs, we're going to go 100 percent and make sure we're fine-tuning our game."