Experience has taught Bruce Boudreau that it isn't wise to celebrate the view from first place when the finish line is still in the distance. "I've gotten a lot of praise in January and December before,'' the Wild coach said. "And a lot of 'Boy, you stink' in May and June.''

To that end, Boudreau is reminding his players every day that they haven't won anything yet. They reflected that attitude as they returned to work Monday after the four-day All-Star break. The Wild enthusiastically dived into a practice at Xcel Energy Center, then flew to Edmonton to kick off a four-game, eight-day trip to Canada that begins Tuesday against the Oilers.

The Wild's place atop the Western Conference standings lightened the mood but not the workload. Monday's practice emphasized details: moving the puck swiftly through the neutral zone, relentless backchecking, meticulous special-teams play. Players said Boudreau's message heading into Tuesday's game is simple: Keep the foot on the gas.

"We don't want to stop,'' forward Jason Zucker said. "We don't want to sit back and look and see what everyone else is doing behind us. We want to create that path for ourselves and keep pushing forward, making sure every time somebody plays us, they know they're going to be in for a fight.

"We just have to make sure we know this is a very important trip. We need to come out strong against Edmonton [on Tuesday], and we need to carry that into Calgary [on Wednesday]. We need to use this trip to set the tone for the second half for us.''

The Wild thrashed St. Louis 5-1 in its last game before the break. It has earned points in its past 13 road games, a franchise record, and is tied with Edmonton for the most road points in the NHL this season (35).

Kuemper to start

Goaltender Darcy Kuemper is expected to start against the Oilers, marking his first appearance in net since a 4-2 loss to Nashville on Jan. 22. Devan Dubnyk's stellar play this season has sharply limited Kuemper's minutes; he has appeared in only 10 of the Wild's 48 games, compiling a 5-3-2 record, 3.28 goals-against average and .901 save percentage.

Throughout January, Kuemper has been starting about every eight days. He has gone as long as 21 days between starts this season. Managing those long layoffs isn't new to him; last season, Kuemper played in 21 games and started only 16, which forced him to learn how to stay sharp while waiting for the next opportunity to play.

"I think it's the same as anything else,'' he said. "The more you go through it, the more comfortable you get with it.

"With long breaks in between [starts] a lot of it is having a comfort level and trust in your game when you do get back in there. Going through it a couple of times, it allows you to have that trust and know you'll be ready to go.''

Kuemper — who always is smiling, no matter his situation — also credited his teammates' support with keeping his spirits high.

"When I do get in there, it feels like the guys really rally for me,'' he said. "The bottom line is, it's a team game. You just have to be ready. [Tuesday], I just want to play as hard as I can and help us get two points.''


• The Wild recalled defenseman Mike Reilly from Iowa of the AHL on Monday. Reilly has played in 13 games with the Wild this season, averaging 12 minutes, 45 seconds of ice time per game.

• Before the All-Star break, the Wild had played nine games in 15 days. The schedule doesn't ease up until late February, with 11 games over the next 22 days.

After the Canada trip, the Wild returns home for a run of eight consecutive home games from Feb. 8-27, with a five-day break between the final two games of the homestand. "It's a really compressed schedule,'' Boudreau said. "It's tough for everybody. Managing rest and work is going to be a really difficult thing.''