Wild still need to work to secure a playoff spot

Published 3:35 pm Saturday, April 4, 2015

MENDOTA HEIGHTS — The Minnesota Wild have put themselves on solid footing for the playoffs.

They’re not in yet, though. That determination and desperation they’ve been taking to the ice, fueling that NHL-best 26-7-2 record over the last 11 weeks, will need to be maintained to clinch a wild card spot and preserve momentum for the postseason.

“We don’t want to put ourselves in a situation where we’re easing up on things now, and then all of a sudden you’ve missed two games as an opportunity,” coach Mike Yeo said. He added: “That urgency coming into a game, it’s something you have to make sure you use the right way. It’s a powerful thing.”

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Following a four-day break between games, a schedule rarity for March or April, the Wild had their five-game winning streak stopped by the New York Rangers with a 3-2 decision on Thursday night. The Rangers have been surging toward the top seed in the Eastern Conference, but they’re not a rival in competition for those precious few playoff spots available to the Wild.

“If you don’t have hatred against some of these teams and you’re not jockeying for position with them, there’s other games going on and there’s a recipe for our success that we’ve got to make sure we bring,” Yeo said.

The Wild will have one more test against a quality Eastern Conference foe, when they host Detroit on Saturday night. The Red Wings haven’t secured their spot in the postseason yet, either.

Since Jan. 15, coinciding with the arrival of goalie Devan Dubnyk, the Wild have been a dominant team. They were so far buried in the Western Conference race that they had to win at that exceptional rate to even last this long. That reality has been part of their success.

“I think going through that as a group, it can help us,” captain Mikko Koivu said. “I think it brought us together more, and you learn a lot about the players you play with in those situations. For sure looking back now, like I said you don’t want to be in that, but it can be a good thing.”

After a home game on Monday night against the Winnipeg Jets, one of the teams they’re primarily fighting for a spot with along with the Calgary Flames and Los Angeles Kings, the Wild finish the schedule with road games against each of the top three teams ahead of them in the Central Division.

Depth shouldn’t be a problem. Injured forwards Matt Cooke and Jason Zucker have been skating with the team, nearing a return from extended injury absences.

Zucker’s broken collarbone was originally supposed to keep him out until early May, but Yeo said after practice on Friday afternoon that there’s a possibility Zucker will be cleared in time to play again before the regular season ends.

“I was actually impressed. You can tell he’s putting the work in conditioning-wise. He’s a little further ahead than what I expected,” Yeo said.

Zucker has been cleared for contact in practice but not game action yet.

“You never want to be out. You always want to be with your team and helping them in any way you can, but they’ve been playing great as everyone knows and it’s always good to see them winning,” Zucker said.