Monday’s Wild practice was optional, and lightly attended. But the pre-practice film review? That played to a full house.
The Wild is all but assured of a spot in the playoffs. With two games left, it is five points ahead of Colorado, which has three games remaining, for the final Western Conference berth. That means a victory by the Wild clinches a playoff spot. The next opportunity is Tuesday against San Jose at Xcel Energy Center.
But the message interim coach John Torchetti gave the players Monday was to worry about the way they play and let the rest take care of itself. In its losing streak that reached three games on Sunday night at Winnipeg, the Wild hasn’t been doing enough.
“We want to play the game the right way,” Torchetti said Monday. “We haven’t got what we wanted the last three. We had success when we won six in a row. We talked about that today, doing things the right way, and doing ’em for 60 minutes. Not trying to do it the shortcut way.’’
It is a message the fans and the players have heard a lot.
Since Torchetti took over for Mike Yeo, the Wild has ridden a roller coaster. The team won four straight, then lost three in a row. It won four more in a row, then lost four of the next five, one in overtime. Most recently there was a six-game winning streak followed by losses to Ottawa, Detroit and 5-1 in Winnipeg on Sunday.
And so if it’s frustrating to hear that message again before game No. 81, well, it’s frustrating for Torchetti, too.
“It’s frustrating to everybody,’’ he said. “When things are going right, it’s an easier game. When everyone’s playing the right way. But then, when you have one or two or three that want to go the other way, then we have to get back on track. You’ve got to show ’em, because if you just tell ’em it doesn’t work. The film helps.’’
There was a lot of talk in the locker room after the loss in Winnipeg about the need to finish the regular season strong. Goaltender Devan Dubnyk said the team would get “throttled’’ in the playoffs if it played the way it did against the Jets.
The Wild has two regular-season games left — both at home, against San Jose on Tuesday and Calgary on Saturday — to build a semblance of momentum.
“That would be ideal,” Zach Parise said. “We haven’t played that great the last three games, and we know that. We’re making mistakes we can’t be making at Game 79, 80. But we have a couple of games that can turn things around, get in [the playoffs] and feel good about the way we’re playing.’’
The talk Monday was to grab a playoff spot, not back into it.
‘’We’ve missed at least one chance to clinch,’’ Parise said. “I know right now we’re more worried about ourselves and how we’re playing. Playing the right way. … The things we’ve been doing in the last couple games, they’re fixable, they’re correctable. It’s tough to win when you’re making those mistakes.’’
Among those skating Monday was defenseman Jared Spurgeon, on the ice for the first time since being injured while blocking a shot early in the Wild’s loss to Ottawa on Thursday. There is a chance he will play Tuesday. But Torchetti ruled out Thomas Vanek.
No matter who plays, the entire team has to play better. It sounds like that’s a message Torchetti has been repeating since shortly after Sunday’s game ended. When asked if the players got his message Monday, Torchetti said, “I think they got it yesterday.”