The Wild finally had clarity.
These players, most of whom had been here the entire season, would be the ones to close out the season for the Wild.
No one was leaving to a different organization, and external help wasn’t on the way.
Whether the team would make the playoffs or fall short would depend on this group.
And the Wild responded to that message delivered Monday by General Manager Bill Guerin by inching closer to a playoff spot, holding on for a 5-4 win Tuesday over the Blue Jackets at Xcel Energy Center that moved the team within three points of the second wildcard berth in the Western Conference.
“Right now, we’re in a pretty good spot, so we know what we have to do,” winger Kevin Fiala said. “We believe. We know it’s going to be us, especially now with the deadline [over]. We’re happy to stay with this group and just to continue with this group moving forward.”
As the Wild reconvened Tuesday, interim coach Dean Evason didn’t feel a stressful or anxious vibe from the players.
He did notice that they went about their business, which was the natural approach to take after Guerin had a quiet deadline – not making any moves despite being in talks to trade winger Zach Parise.
That return to normalcy seemed to trickle down into the Wild’s play, as the team jumped out to a 4-1 lead before prevailing in a photo finish.
“It's always a tense time of year, especially for a lot of guys,” center Eric Staal. “It's one of those days that you just want to get by. It's a good feeling, obviously, and now just focus on what our group can do and pushing ourselves hard here down the stretch.
“We're going to need a lot from everybody here and we'll come together, hopefully play some good hockey and give ourselves a shot at the playoffs and go where we want to go."
Fiala gave the Wild a much-needed response goal in the third amid a heavy push by Columbus that pulled the visitors within a goal of the Wild at 4-3. But the finish turned into the game-winner after the Blue Jackets tacked on one more before time ran out. Fiala now has 14 points in his last 11 games after also tallying an assist.
“When he gets the puck, you can tell he kind of slowed it down and was like, ‘This thing’s going right in the back of the net,’” goalie Alex Stalock said of Fiala. “As soon as he had it, you almost felt like, ‘There’s no way he’s missing this.’ It’s nice to have a guy like him that when he gets a look, there’s a good chance it’s going in the back of the net.”
The veterans also were key, with Staal and captain Mikko Koivu accounting for three goals.
This marked the first time both forwaqrds have scored in the same game since Oct.26, a win over the Kings.
“We're going to need everybody,” Staal said. “That's how it works. That's how good teams find success is having everybody contributing, especially down the stretch.”
Koivu’s line with wingers Ryan Donato and Ryan Hartman was arguably the Wild’s best all night.
Donato also scored, and the three combined for six points.
“Hartsy was really good on the wall,” Evason said. “Donny had really good speed. Yeah, they played a strong game for us and allowed us to just roll the lines.”