The gap the Wild has to close in the Western Conference has been looming over the franchise ever since it was bounced out of the playoffs last season, fading in Game 7 after a burly first-round battle with the Golden Knights.
But the Wild has evolved to better withstand that standard of play and if its first impression following a significant trade deadline retool by General Manager Bill Guerin is any indication of what to expect this year, the team might make a different statement.
After acquiring a three-time Stanley Cup champion in goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury for one of the boldest moves in team history, the Wild responded with a clean 3-0 win on Monday in front of 17,498 at Xcel Energy Center fittingly against Vegas.
"We've been a team that's getting put in this position for the way we've been working all season," Marcus Foligno said. "To have Billy trust us and believe in us and make the trades that he's made, it's exciting."
Fleury's new sidekick Cam Talbot ushered in this next chapter by blocking 28 shots for his second shutout of the season and 26th in his NHL career while also picking up a sixth straight victory.
In front of Talbot, Nicolas Deslauriers, Matt Dumba and Ryan Hartman supplied the goals with Deslauriers' tally coming in his team debut after a Saturday trade from the Ducks.
"Management brought the pieces that we needed," Deslauriers said. "I want to prove that I'm a piece that can help a lot."
This effort lifted the Wild into second place in the Central Division, one point ahead of rival St. Louis, and the promotion was the upshot of a steady 5-1-1 clapback to the rut that opened the second half of the season; the Wild's current three-game win streak is its longest since a six-game tear going into the All-Star break.
"It's great to get that confidence back in a crucial time of the season," Foligno said.
To be fair, the Golden Knights that eliminated the Wild last May weren't on the ice.
Vegas is missing key players to injury, like goalie Robin Lehner, captain Mark Stone and forward Max Pacioretty.
Perhaps the most glaring difference, though, is Fleury's absence.
He was traded by the Golden Knights last offseason to the Blackhawks, who flipped the impending free agent to the Wild on Monday morning. By the evening, he was on the bench backing up Talbot in a Wild jersey and hat after receiving an ovation when he first surfaced for pregame warmups.
Another addition, Deslauriers, reignited the cheers 5 minutes, 43 seconds into the first period when he one-timed in a behind-the-net pass from Brandon Duhaime during his second shift, a finish that elicited an exuberant celebration from the Wild's new sparkplug.
"Every time when we played here as an away team, you hated playing here," Deslauriers said. "The fans are involved. For me, it's been a while playing in a packed building, a home packed building. It was fun."
Tyson Jost, whom the Wild also traded for last week after dealing Nico Sturm to the Avalanche, earned an assist on the goal for his first point with the Wild.
Then after a scoreless second – both power plays went 0-for-2 – the Wild secured a key insurance goal on a Dumba shot through traffic at 5:46 of the third period.
That was more than enough offense for Talbot, who backstopped the Wild to its first victory of the season vs. the Golden Knights in three tries. Logan Thompson had 33 stops for Vegas, with Hartman notching his 26th goal into an empty net with seven seconds to go.
Talbot is the lone holdover from the goaltending duo that was in place since last season; the Wild sent Kaapo Kahkonen and a draft pick to the Sharks.
"I'm looking forward to being [Fleury's] partner out here," said Talbot, who Guerin mentioned was among the first to reach out to Fleury. "We're just going to play off each other, build something special here and work towards our ultimate goal."
Guerin's maneuvering endorsed that pursuit, and already the boost has spilled over onto the ice.
"Billy saw we were a piece or two away from really being contenders, and he went out there and did his job," Talbot said. "Now we have to go out there and do ours."