ANAHEIM, Calif. – Resolution arrived at 12:07 a.m. Tuesday, and the Wild was awake for it.
“If I knew we had a chance of getting in last night, I was going to stay up,” center Eric Staal said.
More than 2½ hours after the Wild accomplished the first step, blanking the Oilers 3-0 Monday, the process of clinching a playoff berth was complete when the Kings held off the Avalanche 3-1, with the news lighting up the team’s group text.
“I kind of just [did] a little celebratory thing in my head by myself and then went to bed,” Staal said.
While that result downgraded the urgency level of a season-ending, three-game road swing through California that begins Wednesday against the Ducks, this remains a business trip for the Wild — a tuneup for the postseason that could be especially helpful for a new-look defense seeking to solidify itself on the heels of losing No. 1 Ryan Suter for the season because of a right ankle fracture.
“They’re going to be tough games, and it’s going to be a good chance for the ‘D’ core to kind of fill into their roles and play together and start to work together, and that’s what we’re going to need,” goalie Devan Dubnyk said. “It’s going to be a good chance for that against some good hockey teams that are fighting for their lives.”
A workable blueprint that the Wild’s retooled blue line could apply the rest of the way seemed to emerge in its first test against the Oilers.
Without a catalyst like Suter who can deliver the home-run plays, the Wild kept it simple. It was economical in its decisionmaking, and the unit didn’t panic.
And this approach worked.
Not only did the Wild limit the NHL’s top point-getter in Connor McDavid to zero production and only four shots, but it also surrendered just seven high-danger scoring chances, according to Naturalstattrick.com, which matches its season average — a feel-good debut for a back end trying to re-establish itself during one of the most rigorous segments of the schedule.
“When there wasn’t a play, they made a safe play off the wall or off the glass and let us skate into it,” winger Zach Parise said. “We got out of the zone when we needed to. That’s going to be how we’re going to have to play going forward.”
The Wild’s look on defense, however, could change for the playoffs.
Boudreau is still hoping Jared Spurgeon is ready to return for Game 1 after being out since March 13 with a right hamstring tear.
“He’s not a guy who’s going to need five games to get ready for the [playoff] games,” said Boudreau, who described Spurgeon as being at 50 percent right now. “He’ll be ready, but we want him 100 percent.”
Gustav Olofsson is another defenseman who could return after battling a concussion, so the rest of the regular season could act as an audition for the newer faces — especially since Boudreau hasn’t finalized his top six for the playoffs.
Whether it wants an offensive look, a more defensive presence, an experienced bunch or a younger mix are all combinations the team is pondering.
“You’re always competing,” Boudreau said. “If you’re a guy that’s just been brought up from the minors and you have a couple bad games, you don’t have a lot of built-up equity in the bank. You gotta play good all the time and as hard as you can all the time.”
While these assessments are being made, the focus all over the ice will be to prep for the playoffs.
Dubnyk is slated to suit up Wednesday, with backup Alex Stalock tabbed for the second half of the back-to-back Thursday against the Kings. Who handles the regular-season finale Saturday in San Jose hasn’t been decided yet.
Up front, rookie Jordan Greenway is expected to play all three remaining games and rest will be doled out likely to three different forwards via the extra spot.
But easing off now that a playoff spot is confirmed isn’t part of the Wild’s plan.
“We’ve been playing pretty steady,” Boudreau said. “We have to continue to play that way and play hard that way to keep in the good habits, to maintain this so when you get into the playoffs, you’re playoff-ready rather than saying, ‘OK, we’ve done OK, so let’s let up on the gas.’ I don’t think you can do that.”