COLUMBUS – The Wild will take Saturday off after stopping in Detroit and Columbus on back-to-back nights but when it shows up to Xcel Energy Center Sunday, it won’t get to ease back into work mode.
That’s because the Washington Capitals will be there to greet the team, the stiffest test at the end of a week the Wild has already turned into a success after a 5-0 takedown of the Blue Jackets Friday sealed three straight wins for the club.
“We wanted to make sure that we had good efforts, and we won the games that we felt like we should win,” winger Zach Parise said. “We did that, and now it's going to get a little tougher going into the next few games.”
After hosting the Capitals, the Wild will have a showdown with the Predators that could be hugely important.
Going into Saturday’s slate of games, the Wild sat just one point behind Nashville for the second and final wildcard seed in the Western Conference. The Predators play the Avalanche and Oilers before that game.
But the significance of that matchup might have waned if the Wild didn’t take care of business this week, grabbing six points to solidify itself in the middle of this playoff race.
Although Detroit is last in the NHL, Columbus is also fighting for its playoff life. Despite being decimated by injuries, the Blue Jackets were rested for Friday’s tilt but looked completely flat against the Wild.
“They’re missing key components,” goalie Alex Stalock said. A lot of teams are. Guys are playing hurt. Whether it’s in our locker room or their locker room, guys are playing through it and competing hard minutes and blocking shots when maybe they shouldn’t be. That’s a team game. That’s a team win.”
The Wild had yet to call on Stalock on consecutive nights this season, but the decision panned out.
Stalock was perfect, turning aside all 24 shots he faced after making 24 saves Thursday in the 7-1 victory over the Red Wings.
His play has helped the Wild make up ground in the standings, but it’s unclear if he’ll return to the crease for Sunday’s game.
“Short travel, I think, goes into it,” Stalock said of starting back-to-back contests. “We were in bed at a good time. Obviously, the Detroit game … we played strong, 60-minute game, four lines that we talked about rolling over, made it a simple game. Didn’t spend much time in our zone. Fresh legs. Got a chance to go again.”
Four of the Wild’s goals came at even strength, but this was another strong showing for the team’s special teams play – especially for the penalty kill. The unit hasn’t given up a goal over the last nine games, going a perfect 21-for-21.
And chalk this up as another successful performance for the Wild’s “fourth line.”
Captain Mikko Koivu fed winger Ryan Hartman for a redirect in the second period, the line’s sixth goal over the past three games.
“I didn’t really have to do much,” Hartman said. “It just went off my stick.”
That seems to be the theme for the entire team lately.