The edict came down from coach Bruce Boudreau less than two weeks ago, before the Wild started another grueling week Nov. 19 in Buffalo.
His message, aside from expressing his belief in the group, was for players to keep their eyes off the standings, which remained a grim barometer on the team’s progress despite better play from it since the calendar flipped to November.
But after routing the Senators 7-2 during a Friday matinée in front of an announced 17,112 at Xcel Energy Center, the Wild’s improvement is finally starting to translate to traction in the NHL’s hierarchy — even though the team still isn’t allowed to see it.
After climbing to 11-11-4, the team sat only two points back of the playoff pace in the Western Conference.
“The way that we’re playing now, to be .500 at Thanksgiving from where we were out of the gates, is pretty impressive and says a lot about our group,” goalie Alex Stalock said. “Now that we’re there, it’s time to really start having fun.”
Not only did the Wild extend its point streak on home ice to eight games (6-0-2), but it also prolonged its season-high point streak to eight (5-0-3), the second-longest active run in the NHL.
It’s that momentum that has the Wild dismissing the long-standing theory that teams in a playoff spot at Thanksgiving tend to hold onto one.
“I believe we’re going to be there,” Boudreau said. “So, I don’t put any sense into that.”
Boudreau wasn’t convinced these strides were possible from the group that got off to a ghastly 1-6 start. But the rendition that closed out October with a narrow loss to the reigning Stanley Cup champion Blues? “I can imagine it from that point,” he said.
And the factors that have contributed to the Wild’s success since then were accounted for in its latest victory: depth scoring, strong special teams and steady goaltending.
“All four lines and all the ‘D’ pairings are playing responsibly and playing hard,” winger Ryan Hartman said, “and we’re able to just roll.”
After getting behind 15 minutes, 37 seconds into the first period on a deflection by Ottawa’s Nick Paul, the Wild flipped a switch at intermission and pulled away by scoring three times in the second and four in the third.
Ryan Donato tied it at 9:43 of the middle frame on a backhander just under the crossbar — the third time in the past four games the fourth line has chipped in a goal.
Just 54 seconds later, the Senators regained the lead on a one-timer by Brady Tkachuk.
But then the Wild took over.
Only 28 seconds after Tkachuk’s goal, the Wild pulled even on a tip by Jared Spurgeon, and Zach Parise stuffed in a turnover forced by Kevin Fiala at 13:56.
In the third, Luke Kunin capitalized on a partial break (4:34), Hartman had a terrific, top-shelf shot sail in (6:32) and Eric Staal converted on his backhand on the power play (10:50) in his 1,200th career game. Jason Zucker capped off the parade of offense with a nifty backhander (11:38) set up by Spurgeon — his second of two assists and third point on his 30th birthday.
He and defensive partner Ryan Suter tied a franchise record by finishing plus-5.
Eleven Wild players registered at least a point. The Wild went 1-for-3 on the power play while killing off Ottawa’s lone look. Stalock totaled 33 saves, while Anders Nilsson had 28.
“When you get confidence and when you get rolling, some consistency, it can build,” Staal said. “Right now, we have a little bit of that and want to just continue.”