In the two-plus weeks since the Wild clinched a playoff berth, not much has changed for the team.
The Wild is still sitting third in the West Division, although a promotion is still a possibility, and wins continue to outnumber losses.
But the games have been far from meaningless.
They have been an appropriate tune-up to keep the team ready for a first-round playoff matchup that could start as soon as this weekend, after the Wild wraps up the regular season with back-to-back games in St. Louis on Wednesday and Thursday.
"We like the makeup of our group as far as the lines and our pairs and whichever goaltender we've asked here as of late they've given us a great game," coach Dean Evason said. "We feel very comfortable in all areas right now."
After locking up a playoff spot on April 24, the Wild returned home for a lengthy homestand that finished Saturday at 4-1-2 with a 4-3 overtime victory over Anaheim.
Considering the situation, though, the plot is more insightful right now than the resolution, and the Wild was challenged all seven games.
Up first were three in a row against the Blues, a tense series since St. Louis was still battling to secure the final playoff seed in the West — an invite it didn't receive until Friday. And the Blues' urgency was apparent; they overcame a two-goal deficit in the third period to stun the Wild 4-3 before persevering 5-4 in overtime after the Wild came back in the third.
A similar scenario played out in the finale, with the Wild forcing OT after tying St. Louis with two third-period goals, but the script flipped and the Wild prevailed 4-3.
"We just stayed with the game plan," Evason said. "We were happy that we didn't get out of it and try to do something different. We didn't try to get real cute and make pretty plays. We just kept grinding away and grinding away and ultimately found a way."
That resiliency was needed for the second test of the homestand, two games against division-leading Vegas, and it showed up big time when the Wild racked up three goals in the third period — including two in 26 seconds within the final two minutes — to snatch a 6-5 victory from the Golden Knights.
"We don't panic," Evason said.
Another rally headlined the rematch, with the Wild moving ahead on two late goals. But the Golden Knights responded in regulation and then capped off their comeback 3-2 in overtime.
While the loss was a missed opportunity, the clash with Vegas was probably just what the Wild needed — a bona fide playoff preview that was hard-hitting and intense. The opposition was also of the caliber the Wild will face in the postseason, which wasn't the case this past weekend.
The last-place Ducks stopped by Xcel Energy Center for two games in two nights, and the vibe was sleepy compared with the high-strung hysteria against the Golden Knights.
Still, the Wild had to work — again needing overtime in both games after blowing third-period leads to emerge victorious 4-3, getting winning goals from Kirill Kaprizov on Friday and Victor Rask on Saturday. But the team did show progress from Friday to Saturday, cleaning up its play after struggling with turnovers.
"Obviously, there's still room to improve," captain Jared Spurgeon said. "Every game we go out there we have to be getting better at something and perfecting our game and keeping it consistent throughout the playoffs. I think there's still things to work on, but we're happy with the wins."
Now, only two games remain before the playoffs begin. The Wild trails Colorado by a point in the standings and the teams appear likely to face each other in the first round, though it's possible for the Avalanche to catch Vegas this week.
Like the past few weeks, these upcoming matchups against St. Louis are another chance for the Wild to get prepared for what lies ahead.
"They're a playoff team," winger Nick Bonino said of the Blues. "No better way to get ready for the playoffs than to play a team that won the Cup a couple years ago."