There was no anxiety, no noticeable jitters. Just business as usual as players stuck to their normal pregame routines Saturday.
That was evident when the laughs of Devan Dubnyk, Erik Haula and a dozen teammates could be heard throughout the event level of Pepsi Center 90 minutes before facing Colorado. As Wild players ribbed each other during their customary soccer warmup, there was no sign that in short order they’d be playing the biggest game of their season.
“We were real focused,” Dubnyk said before the Wild shut out the Avalanche for the fifth time in its past eight victories against the loathed rival. “I really liked the feeling. Nobody was overexcited. We knew we had work to do.”
The 4-0 win — the Wild’s eighth in 10 games vs. Colorado — gave the Wild a five-point edge on the ninth-place Avs. Colorado has a game in hand that will come Monday in Nashville, but the Wild has a 94.9 percent chance of making the playoffs.
“We got outplayed, it got away from us and now we’re going to have to watch and win some games and hope against a little fortune for the Wild,” Avalanche veteran Jarome Iginla said. “Unfortunately now it’s not as much in our hands.”
The Wild has six games left starting Tuesday against Chicago, which has lost six consecutive regular-season games against Minnesota. Of the six games remaining, only two are against teams currently in a playoff position, although Friday’s second of a back-to-back in Detroit could be tough with the East’s ninth-place Red Wings fighting to make the playoffs for a 25th straight season.
If the Wild finishes eighth in the West, it will play the conference’s regular-season champs. Dallas and St. Louis are tied atop the standings tied with 99 points, while Los Angeles has 95 points with one fewer game played.
But there are several reasons to be confident the Wild is peaking at the perfect time, beyond even the fact it has won the most games in the NHL in John Torchetti’s 21 games since Feb. 15 (14) and scored the most goals (68).
• The rebirth of Zach Parise: After scoring two goals in a 25-game stretch, the Wild’s engine has scored five goals in the past two games and is absolutely flying since getting treatment for a lingering upper-body injury Wednesday.
“He’s on fire,” defenseman Ryan Suter said. “He’s been working hard, playing hard, doing the right things. Now finally he’s getting rewarded for it and it’s huge for our team.”
• Dubnyk is on a roll: Since Feb. 28, Dubnyk is 10-1-1 in 13 starts with a 1.98 goals-against average and .930 save percentage, having the most wins in the league in that span. Since being pulled March 17 at New Jersey, Dubnyk is 5-0 with a 1.36 goals-against average, .958 save percentage and one shutout.
• The penalty kill has been, as Dubnyk called it, “massive.” In the past 10 games, the NHL’s most disciplined team has killed 24 of 25 disadvantages, including some huge ones the past two games in the third period.
A lot of it coincides with the return of defenseman Jonas Brodin from a broken foot and Parise and Charlie Coyle joining the penalty kill. The Wild has gotten exceptional play from guys such as Haula, Mikko Koivu, Jarret Stoll, Marco Scandella and Mikael Granlund and defense partners Suter and Jared Spurgeon.
The Wild has won some big draws and blocked some big shots, but, as Torchetti said, it all starts “with the big boy,” Dubnyk. His shorthanded save percentage the past 10 games is .968.
“I really like how we’re going lately,” Dubnyk said. “Guys are working real hard and getting the job done and making it easy on me.”
• The power play is on fire: The Wild’s power play was trending upward in Mike Yeo’s final days as coach, but it’s 25 percent under Torchetti (19-for-76) and has climbed to a tie for 10th in the NHL (19.8 percent).
• Secondary scoring: The Wild is getting offense from four lines and its blue line. Since Feb. 15, Nino Niederreiter has 10 goals and 17 points and linemate Haula has 18 points and the NHL’s longest active point streak of eight games. Suter, whose ice time the past two games was down to 23 minutes, 48 seconds per game, has a career-high 49 points and Koivu has eight points in the past six games and his 54 points puts him on pace to have his largest point total since 2010-11.
“You feel confident, but I think we have to continue to play the way we have, the same mindset that we’ve had,” Suter said. “It’s still tight. You still want to build your game for the playoffs.”