Goaltending has to be sharp, the offense needs to capitalize and special-teams play must help more than harm.
But what ultimately may end up deciding the Wild’s playoff fate is how it fares during a five-game homestand that begins Monday at Xcel Energy Center against the San Jose Sharks. It is the start of a 13-game push to the finish line that includes eight matchups in St. Paul for a squad that’s struggled to take advantage of a familiar backdrop.
“That’s going to be absolutely necessary,” goalie Devan Dubnyk said. “I think our last two games here have been very good. We’re starting to build a little momentum here and getting back to the identity that we have here at home. This place is just an awesome place to play when we play well and get the momentum and get the crowd going. So it’s going to be very important here coming up.”
After completing a 1-1-1 road trip last week, the Wild improved to 19-15-2 as the visitors and eclipsed its total of road victories (18) from last season.
The team has no chance of even matching its production on home ice from 2017-18 when it went 27-6-8, but at 14-13-6, it could clear 20 wins — which is what coach Bruce Boudreau feels would help the group reach its goal of playing beyond the regular season.
“Win the first game and then the snowball goes in your direction, and it gets bigger and bigger and you gain a little more confidence,” Boudreau said. “That’s what we’re hoping to do.”
Developing that momentum in-game also seems key, as how the Wild has started lately has previewed how it’s finished.
During its recent eight-game point streak, the team opened the scoring five times and trailed only twice after one period.
Not until it fell apart last Friday against the Panthers, giving up three goals in the first en route to getting overwhelmed 6-2, did the Wild’s run end.
A return home isn’t just an opportunity to move past that letdown; it’s also a fresh start for the other factors that the Wild will rely on in its pursuit of the postseason.
Dubnyk gave up all three of those first-period goals by Florida, but before then he was 6-0-1 with a .943 save percentage and 1.69 goals-against average in his previous seven starts.
“It’s pretty easy to forget about that game,” he said.
With four goals in the past four outings, the fourth line has provided much-needed secondary scoring, and that balance will be essential.
“We’re doing a lot better job with puck possession,” winger Marcus Foligno said.
Forward Luke Kunin remains out with an upper-body injury after he was crushed with an open-ice hit on Thursday against the Tampa Bay Lightning, but center Victor Rask is poised to return after a 12-game absence (lower-body injury). He skated Sunday with wingers Zach Parise and Kevin Fiala.
“It’s been a long time since I’ve played a game,” Rask said. “But I had a good couple practices here, so I’m ready to go.”
As for the power play, it’s still stuck in a 0-for-15 funk while the penalty kill has showed signs of progress even though it’s been tagged for a goal twice over the past five games.
“Our pressure’s been a lot better,” Foligno said. “We’re not playing offensive, but we’re just trying to attack them at certain times where it can create turnovers.”
At this point of the season, though, the most important numbers are in the standings, and the Wild resumes play in the second wild-card spot in the Western Conference but just a point ahead of the Arizona Coyotes — who have a game in hand — and two in front of the Colorado Avalanche.
That picture, however, could change over the Wild’s next five games.
“Obviously, we haven’t been like last season at home,” Foligno said. “But I think we can right the ship or correct things with a good homestand.”