After winning three out of four games last week, the Wild has made up important ground in the Western Conference playoff race – sitting four points out with two weeks to go before the trade deadline and 27 games left overall.
And all this progress has come in tight games.
Every outing has been decided by one or two goals except for one since the Wild resumed its season after the bye week. And although it fell to the Avalanche Sunday at Xcel Energy Center to snap its three-game win streak, it was still competitive in another 3-2 photo finish.
“It's going to be that way for the rest of the year,” goalie Devan Dubnyk said. “We have been playing well and playing hard. It's fun hockey to play. It was a good effort again tonight by us. We just couldn't get another one.”
While the score can be misleading at times, this final very much reflected what happened on the ice – a neck-and-neck tilt between two Central Division rivals.
Against one of the top teams in the NHL, which is challenging St. Louis for the top spot in the West, that push should stir optimism for the Wild. Even though it wasn’t a win, that’s four games in a row now that the team has had the battle level to go toe-to-toe with its opponent.
“We know where we’re at, and every night is meaningful and huge for us,” center Eric Staal said. “This one doesn’t feel very good right now because we competed hard and it felt like we were right there. We’ve just got to rebound.”
Although he started the game on the fourth line, winger Jason Zucker eventually switched to the second line – a change that coach Bruce Boudreau felt got Zucker’s legs going.
“That’s the Jason we’ve seen before and when he skates, he creates things and he opens up holes and I thought he did that tonight,” Boudreau said. “I think he got rewarded by moving up and playing power play time and penalty kill time. He’s a big part of our team, and we need him to be a big part of our team. So, I hope he can keep it up.”
The most dynamic Wild forward, however, was winger Kevin Fiala.
He continued an impressive stretch, a run that’s produced his best hockey since he joined the Wild last year in a trade from the Predators.
With a pretty goal and assist, Fiala extended his point streak to four games – a run in which he has four goals and three assists.
“I really want to get to the playoffs,” he said. “I missed it once in my career. I want to be in the playoffs, so I want to give my best to the team to help make that possible.”
After practicing Monday, the Wild continues this four-game homestand Tuesday against the Golden Knights.
It’ll be interesting to see if Boudreau starts backup Alex Stalock or goes back to Dubnyk, who gave up a shorthanded goal, was beat through traffic and had the game-winner go in after a rebound popped out into the slot.
“He was better tonight on a whole,” Boudreau said. “I thought in the third period he made some good saves. There wasn’t five and six [goals against]. There was two last game, three this game. Maybe it’s taking a little bit more time than I would like, but I think he’s getting a little more consistent.”