SAINT PAUL, Minn. — The Minnesota Wild are seeking a sixth consecutive trip to the NHL playoffs, which begin in April.
But after the hole they’ve dug for themselves in the season’s first three months, the Wild know they can’t take a single night off. That intense focus quest begins Saturday at home against the Winnipeg Jets.
If the Wild (23-17-4) can put behind inconsistent play that has plagued them throughout the first half of the season, then Minnesota might look back to Wednesday’s 2-1 win at Chicago as a turning point.
The Wild trailed 1-0 after 20 minutes and looked lethargic before coach Bruce Boudreau ripped his team’s effort. The Wild responded with a rare road win.
“Believe me, I have no idea what’s coming out of my mouth, I just know I’m not happy and something’s coming out,” Boudreau said afterward. “We got better, and we got a couple goals.”
The Wild are healthier than they were at the start of 2018, with left winger Zach Parise back in the lineup. Parise missed most of the first half of the season due to back surgery.
But while Parise is working his way back up to full speed, the Wild lost another important offensive cog with Nino Niederreiter being ruled out with a lower body ailment.
The Wild have back-to-back games this weekend, with Winnipeg and the Vancouver Canucks coming to Minnesota. Their five-day break comes just at the right time when Boudreau hopes the Wild can get healthy and make a serious push toward the playoffs.
The Jets know all about 2-1 games in Chicago, having come out on the losing end of one on Friday night. Patrick Laine had the lone goal for Winnipeg, which had won three in a row previously and was averaging five goals a game during that stretch.
“They’re a quick team and they give us some trouble,” Jets captain Blake Wheeler said of Chicago. “We just weren’t able to make the extra play tonight.”
Similar to Minnesota’s game in Chicago, the Jets started slow and came on late, but this time the effort wasn’t enough to beat the Blackhawks.
“We didn’t get so many good chances in the first two (periods) but we just wanted to play hard in the third and get a lot of pucks to the net,” said Laine, whose goal was his team-leading 20th.
The Wild (26-12-7) will be looking for their first win versus the Jets this season, after falling in their first three meetings, including a 7-2 drubbing in Winnipeg the last time they met.
Wheeler, a Minnesota native and a Jet headed to his first All-Star Game, has thrived versus his home state team this season, with five points in the three previous meetings. Jets goalie Connor Hellebuyck, also an All-Star, made his NHL debut in Saint Paul two seasons ago and has thrived against the Wild with a 5-1-0 career mark versus Minnesota.