Can a rivalry go dormant and then reignite almost two years later?
The Wild is about to find out.
After going on hiatus, the battle with the Jets is returning Tuesday for the Wild's home opener at Xcel Energy Center. The historically intense matchup will help decide how the leaderboard shakes out in the relaunched Central Division.
"It's always been heated games against them," said winger Marcus Foligno, who once was involved in a dust-up with the Jets while standing in their bench. "We're just looking forward to a home crowd, too, which will be exciting. That always plays into it. But since that one playoff series against them [in 2018] it's picked up, and they still have some of the guys from that series.
"It'll be a big game and an emotional game for us because it's our first one of the season here, and we want to keep this win streak going."
Not only is the Wild catching up with Winnipeg for the first time since Jan. 4, 2020, this is its first game against an opponent that wasn't part of last season's West Division since August 2020 when the Wild faced Vancouver in the Edmonton playoff bubble.
As part of the abbreviated 2021 slate, the Wild exclusively played the same seven clubs — a roster that included Anaheim and Los Angeles, teams the Wild swept over the weekend in California to debut 2-0.
"It was definitely a little different," goaltender Cam Talbot said of the division-only schedule earlier this year. "It reminded me of being back in the minors. When I was in Hartford, we played Bridgeport and Springfield 12 times a year and it got redundant. It creates great rivalries, don't get me wrong. Maybe moving forward there will be a little bit more of that from the teams we played last year, but it does get a little bit redundant and it's nice to be able to branch out and not only travel to other cities but just play other teams around the league.
"You get to see other guys that you haven't played against in a long time. It's just that much more of a challenge."
By reinstating the same four divisions before the COVID-19 pandemic forced the NHL into a 56-game, shortened season, the league is also bringing back its traditional playoff rules.
That means the top three teams from each division advance, along with two conference wild cards, a format that prioritizes these head-to-head clashes in the division.
Aside from Winnipeg, which swept Edmonton in May in the first round of the playoffs, the Central also features Stanley Cup favorite Colorado, a perennial playoff team in St. Louis and clubs like Dallas and Chicago that are poised to improve.
"I'm looking forward to being a part of those rivalries," Talbot said, "and hopefully start off on the right foot."
The largest home crowd since before the pandemic could take in this reunion.
Unlike last season, when attendance was limited, eventually getting to 4,500 in the playoffs, there are no more restrictions on how many fans the Wild can have at Xcel Energy Center.
"We're excited just for our home crowd," Foligno said. "I think there's a buzz around us this year and winning our first two games, I think our fans are going to be extra excited and expect us to win [Tuesday] night, just like we do ourselves.
"But it's going to be fun. I'm sure maybe a little bit of jitters. There's always those little first-game jitters when you come back for the home opener. So we hope to get rid of those quickly and just pick up where we left off."