Results have been mixed since the Wild took a break from battling teams above it in the standings to visit with those below it.
While the group collapsed against the last-place Coyotes, who flipped a three-goal deficit into a 4-3 overtime win Thursday, the Wild was on-point in a businesslike effort that upended the Blackhawks 3-0 Saturday.
The next challenger to stop by Xcel Energy Center, the Rangers on Tuesday, is mathematically within striking distance of a playoff berth in the Eastern Conference but has turned its focus to the future by forecasting a rebuild that could jettison veterans in favor of youngsters.
And it’s opponents like this that could pose a threat to the Wild the rest of the way, as the lack of postseason pressure can pave the way for a different incentive that’s just as galvanizing.
“Playing for the Stanley Cup is one thing,” coach Bruce Boudreau said. “But playing for your job is another. I think that’s more motivation than playing for the Stanley Cup.”
Teams faced with this reality may not bring the same urgency to the matchup as those vying for the playoffs, but that doesn’t mean nothing’s at stake for them.
“They’re loose, and they’re playing hard because it’s not about wins and losses,” Boudreau said. “It’s about how good they play. Those are tough teams.”
Auditions are typical of this time of the season for these squads — whether it’s young players trying to snag a role for next season or a veteran looking to lock down a new contract. And while those objectives may not stir the type of intensity that both sides can feed off in a head-to-head duel between teams jostling for seeding, a group like the Wild shouldn’t need to be fueled by its competitor.
“It should be predicated on wanting to win so bad that it doesn’t matter if we’re playing the Russian national team or [for] the gold medal for the Olympics,” Boudreau said. “This is as important as it gets every night.”
Goalie Devan Dubnyk stopped a season-high 44 shots Saturday for his fourth shutout of 2017-18, but the amount of rubber he faced could have been much more.
The Wild blocked 26 shots, bumping its output on the season to 873 — which ranked fifth in the NHL.
Defenseman Jared Spurgeon tied for the most in the game with five, missing a chunk of the first period after absorbing what Boudreau called a “stinger.” Later in the game, winger Jason Zucker and captain Mikko Koivu were hobbled on the same shift after each turned in a key block. Both, however, were able to continue playing.
“For our game, it’s really important, especially — not that we want to — but lately we’ve been spending a lot of time in our own zone,” Boudreau said. “It’s something you have to do. It’s crazy, but that’s what wins you games.”
The Wild bundled up and headed outside for practice Sunday, skating at the Recreation Outdoor Center in St. Louis Park.
Winger Zach Parise was the only one missing; his wife, Alisha, who gave birth to the couple’s third child and second son Thursday, was getting released from the hospital. After the skate, players tossed pucks into the crowd and signed autographs for the fans who lined the boards and filled the stands.
“It was a little bit chillier than I think we all expected,” center Matt Cullen said. “But it was fun. We all enjoyed it.”
The Wild recalled defenseman Nick Seeler from the American Hockey League while assigning defenseman Viktor Loov to Iowa.
Seeler, 24, has skated in 49 games this season with Iowa, contributing 12 points. The Eden Prairie native and University of Minnesota alum, who was drafted by the Wild in the fifth round (131st overall) in 2011, would become the 25th Minnesotan to suit up for the Wild in a regular-season game and the fifth to make his NHL debut with the team.
Loov was acquired by the Wild Thursday in a trade with the Devils. He joined the team Friday but did not play Saturday.