Good day from Denver, where the Wild practiced fully this afternoon at the Pepsi Center. The Avs had an optional over at their facility in Centennial and tried to put last night’s disappointment of blowing a lead late in a loss to the Flyers behind them.
Final meeting of the season on Saturday (2 p.m. CT puck drop). The Wild is 3-0-1 vs. Colorado, including an overtime loss in Denver and the memorable third-period comeback from three goals down opening night. That included the fastest four goals in Wild history (5 minutes, 7 seconds) and in hindsight was a gigantic two points when one stares at the standings now.
Proverbial four-point game Saturday.
If the Wild wins in regulation, it’ll have a five-point edge on the ninth-place Avs with six games left. If the Avs win in regulation, they’ll move within a point with one more game than the Wild has left.
“It’s important for us to play well,” defenseman Ryan Suter said. “We know they’re going to play hard. We have to play hard. We have to continue with what we’ve had going on here the last week or two and just build it. It’s not going to make or break us, but it definitely puts you in a better position if you win.”
The Wild is 16-3-4 in its past 23 regular-season games in Colorado. The Avs will be without their two leading scorers, Matt Duchene and Nathan MacKinnon, who have knee injuries.
Coach John Torchetti looks like he’ll go with the same lineup that played against Calgary, meaning Jason Zucker would be a scratch for a second game in a row and fourth time in the past eight games.
Asked what he wants better from Zucker, Torchetti said, “It’s the same thing we talked about. Solid two-way game.”
When we pressed, Torchetti would only say six different times the exact same words: “Solid two-way game.”
You’ve got to give Torchetti credit for one thing: He has guts. Must-win games and he scratches Thomas Vanek in three consecutive games and the Wild wins them all. Then, despite that winning streak, he throws Vanek back in and removes Zucker in a very important game. The Wild won that one, too. Now the Wild has an opportunity to put the hammer on the Avs on Saturday, and Zucker looks like he’s not playing.
Zucker said he simply has to play better. He admitted this has been very tough considering how important these games are and how everybody wants to be playing this time of year.
I exchanged quotes today with the Denver Post’s Mike Chambers and checked out his Tout videos on his Twitter account, and the Avs made very clear they’re treating Saturday’s game “like a playoff game” and “a must-win situation.”
“Exciting games to play,” said veteran Francois Beauchemin. “Everybody is watching us and saying we’re in a tough situation. But you have to take it as a positive thing and just get excited and motivated by it. We control our own destiny. We win [Saturday], we’re right back in it. We all know that if we lose we put ourselves in a really tough situation.”
Zach Parise expects the Avs to play hard, like usual.
“I’d imagine that they’re going to try to come out and be physical, but that shouldn’t change the way we want to play or how we want to do things,” said Parise, who has scored more points by far (33, including the playoffs) against the Avalanche than any player in the NHL since 2012-13.
Added 2014 Game 7 hero Nino Niederreiter, who has 10 goals in his past 20 games, five in his past seven, “We all know how big this game is and I feel like even the whole NHL, everyone knows how big this game this. At the same time, we have to stay in our game and focus on us and don’t look too big picture and take it as a normal game. But we know what’s at stake.”
Said Torchetti, "Looking forward to the game, everybody is. It’s a big game and we all know the importance of it. There’s still a bunch of games left after that. So game by game as we go. Every game’s big. It just happens to be a four-point game. See what the results are and then we move on."
He said, "We’ve got to come out and play a solid 60 minutes.They’re pretty hungry themselves coming off the loss against Philly. We’ve got to be prepared probably for that first five or 10 minute push that we have and then handle it and then get our game going."
It has been pretty impressive the way the Wild has responded to that 7-4 loss in New Jersey and the blown game in Ottawa last Tuesday and Thursday. Four wins in a row since.
“It’s been an emotional roller coaster, all year it’s been up and down,” Suter said. “Hopefully now we can just get stability and steadiness in our game and our emotions and build the thing the next couple weeks here and be ready for the playoffs”
Since Torchetti’s debut Feb. 15, the Wild is tied for first in the league with 13 wins, tied for third with 27 points and first with 64 goals.
Devan Dubnyk is 12-3-1 since that date with a 2.24 goals-against average and .922 save percentage after going 0-8-1 in nine starts before that with a 2.77 goals-against average and .899 save percentage.
Since Feb. 15, Niederreiter is tied for sixth in the NHL with 10 goals and Niederreiter and Erik Haula are tied for 16th with 17 points. Suter is tied for first among NHL defensemen with 12 assists and linemates Mikko Koivu and Coyle have combined for 30 points in that span. Parise has 15 points, but maybe most importantly, Parise, who had two goals in his previous 25 games, broke out against Calgary with his third hat trick of the season. His first came opening night in Denver.
Suter also was jacked for Parise to break out against the Flames.
“I was pumped,” he said. “You could see he wasn’t himself. And for him to get finally rewarded, he works his butt off every night and for him to get off the schneid, it’s good for him and it’s good for us. We need him going.”
Lastly, GM Chuck Fletcher said the Wild has met with prospect Nick Seeler and the defenseman is to meet one more time with Gophers coach Don Lucia, then make a decision whether he wants to return to the U or turn pro. Fletcher said it is completely up to Seeler. If he wants to return, the Wild plan to sign him next spring. If he wants to turn pro, the Wild will sign him now. The Wild just presented the pros and cons of turning pro, Fletcher said.
That’s it for me. I’ll be on KFAN at 5:55 p.m. CT. Talk to ya Saturday.