The Wild’s outlook going into the NHL All-Star break and ensuing bye week already was decided before the team played one more time ahead of a nine-day hiatus.
Trailing the playoff pace in the Western Conference through 50 games, the Wild has plenty of work to do to close that gap once its season resumes Feb. 1.
And although the distance shrunk to only five points after the Wild shrugged off the lowly Red Wings 4-2 on Wednesday in front of 17,212 at Xcel Energy Center for the team’s third victory in its past four games, every push up the standings matters in a race as tightly packed as this one.
“We’re outside looking in,” winger Mats Zuccarello said. “Every game for us is a playoff game. We gotta win. … So we can’t afford to give away points.”
That’s how the team felt after Monday’s 5-4 loss to the Panthers, with a late-game collapse that prevented the Wild from cruising into this lull on a four-win roll.
But the team didn’t let that disappointment fester and instead rebounded against the NHL’s worst team, using an all-hands-on-deck attack to pull away from Detroit with a three-goal, 15-shot second period that included two tallies in only 1 minute, 7 seconds.
“We were attacking a little bit more, a little bit more aggressive,” center Eric Staal said. “I thought we fired a lot of pucks, even off draws and off rushes.”
Eight players earned at least a point, and each goal came from someone new. But the top line was a major catalyst, combining for five points. Staal and Zuccarello each recorded a goal and assist, while defenseman Matt Dumba had two assists.
Goalie Devan Dubnyk made 25 saves in his first start in four games.
“We have four lines that play well, and every given night, there’s a whole new line stepping up,” Zuccarello said.
Actually, all of the offense this game was supplied by the home team since both Red Wings scores were own goals. The first came just 3:08 into the first period when Filip Zadina’s shot was deflected in by center Joel Eriksson Ek’s outstretched stick.
By 4:28, the Wild made up for its mistake when winger Jordan Greenway backhanded in a puck that initially hit him after it was thrown toward the net by Dumba.
Another fortuitous sequence helped Detroit regain the lead.
With 3:21 remaining in the first and while on its first of two power plays, Zadina’s throw on net bounced off Dubnyk, defenseman Jared Spurgeon and then defenseman Ryan Suter before rolling into the net.
At the intermission, coach Bruce Boudreau told the Wild the game meant nothing to Detroit “but it means the world to us,” and the players responded accordingly.
Only 1:12 into the second, Zuccarello batted in his own rebound. Just 1:07 later, winger Jason Zucker wired in a shot off the rush past Detroit goalie Jimmy Howard.
And at 11:39, Staal added an insurance goal when he pounced on a loose puck.
Howard finished with 29 saves. The Wild never went on the power play, stopping its season-high streak of four straight games with a man-advantage goal.
But the numbers that matter more are reflected in the standings.
The Wild is five points back of Vegas for the second wild-card seed, but it’s also chasing Winnipeg and Chicago. That margin could grow while the Wild is idle, but Boudreau expects a push to be made after the break.
“I know you have to jump more than one team but if you have a good two weeks, [you’re] capable of doing it because a lot of teams are playing each other,” he said. “If it falls the right way, things can work out.
“I’m the eternal optimist. I never think it’s out of reach or anything’s out of reach. You just keep going.”