SAN JOSE – When asked in recent days about the team’s surge and the strides it’s taken to become a contender for a playoff spot, Wild interim coach Dean Evason hasn’t basked in the progress.
He’s mentioned the next game at hand.
Thursday night was no different.
The Wild jumped into a playoff spot – the first wild card seed in the Western Conference – for the first time in exactly three months after its 3-2 win over the Sharks at SAP Center. And once again, Evason didn’t stop to relish in the feat.
But the promotion is certainly a reward for the ground the Wild has canvassed after slumping into the worst start in franchise history and then yo-yoing back and forth until its current groove, a 14-6-1 climb over its last 21 games – even if the work is far from over with 15 games remaining.
“It definitely should give us a boost of confidence,” center Alex Galchenyuk said. “There’s obviously still a lot of games left but to know you’re over that wild-card line, it’s great. But at the same time, I think we deserve it as a group. There’s still a way to go, but it’s definitely something positive.”
The toughest test of the week for the Wild came Tuesday at home with its showdown with the Predators, whom the Wild was chasing at the time.
And after the team got by Nashville 3-1 to hurdle the Predators in the standings, the rest of the week was set up to be a glorious opportunity to grow its point total.
The teams on this California road swing are the bottom three in the conference, a schedule that a desperate squad like the Wild could easily take advantage of during its playoff push.
After taking care of business against the Sharks, that possibility remains intact.
“Mikko [Koivu] before the game said, ‘If you want to have a great road trip, you have to make sure you win the first one,’” Galchenyuk said. “It builds from here now. Still have two super important games. [But] definitely great start.”
The Wild rolled out a new top line that made an immediate impact.
With center Eric Staal not on the road trip following a death in his family, winger Zach Parise and center Luke Kunin joined winger Kevin Fiala and the three were a hit – combining on the game-winning goal, a finish by Parise. The goal was his fourth in as many games.
“The lines that I’ve been on, even with [Joel Eriksson Ek] and [Jordan] Greenway, and then playing with Luke and Kevin tonight, I just think we’ve had a lot of scoring chances and a lot of opportunities,” Parise said. “So, everyone benefits from that.”
What the team has also benefited from is the goaltending of Alex Stalock.
His 40 saves against San Jose were a season-high, and 19 of those came in a nail-biting third that saw the Sharks cut their deficit to 1.
“They were coming,” said defenseman Ryan Suter, who like Parise finished with a goal and assist. “They had the press on. I thought we did a good job of trying to get pucks just to the neutral zone, buy us some time. Al played great. That’s what you need.”
Next up for the Wild is a Saturday matinee at Staples Center against the Kings.
It’s possible the Wild is dropped from its playoff spot by then, since three of the teams it’s leading by one point (Vancouver, Winnipeg and Arizona) are in action Friday. But now it’s put itself in a position to continue to jostle with these clubs if it continues to take care of its own results.
“Obviously, it’s not over,” Stalock said. “We can’t be complacent. [We] talk about being a predictable team. Every night we want to show up and want people to know what we’re going to bring. We’re going to play a fast game. We’re going to get pucks to the net. We’re going to play strong defensively and keep it going.
“It seems to be the right recipe. We’re moving up. Keep moving up and see what happens.”