Wild send clear message to other Western Conference contenders
They are an incredible 16-1-4 since a swoon last month dropped them below the playoff cut line
LAS VEGAS — As the Minnesota Wild filed onto the ice for their morning skate on Wednesday, all they had to do was look up to find any extra motivation they might need heading into their biggest game of the season. Hanging in the rafters at Ball Arena in Denver is a 2022 Stanley Cup banner, proof that the Colorado Avalanche are the team to beat in the NHL until further notice.
“They’re the team that we have to beat because they were the champions,” Wild coach Dean Evason told reporters in Denver roughly 12 hours later as the Wild put the finishing touches on a statement 4-2 win over the Avalanche. “To put this in our memory bank is good.”
Though the Wild have kept the focus on getting as many points as possible ahead of the NHL playoffs, they have sent a clear message to other Western Conference contenders in the process. They are an incredible 16-1-4 since a swoon last month dropped them below the playoff cut line.
“We don’t want to run into the Wild in the first round if we can help it,” Avalanche coach Jared Bednar told reporters in Denver in the hours leading up to the pivotal matchup. “They’re the hottest team in the league.”
That trend has continued this week as the Wild cruised to a 5-1 win over the Seattle Kraken, then followed it up with their victory over the Avalanche. Both games held significance because the Wild could end up playing either team in the first round of the playoffs.
Think of the wins as the Wild planting a seed of doubt in their opponents.
“We want to show that we’re a hard team to play against,” Wild forward Joel Eriksson Ek said earlier this week. “We want to keep building our game and have a good feeling going into the playoffs.”
That’s exactly what the Wild can continue to do with another big game against the Vegas Golden Knights on Saturday. Though it’s virtually impossible for the teams to meet in the first round of the playoffs, the Wild could quietly pass the Golden Knights for the best record in the Western Conference with a win.
Asked by reporters in Denver about the pressure associated with pacing the rest of the field, Wild goaltender Filip Gustavsson replied, “We just need to keep our foot down on the gas and not relax too much.”
That’s the name of the game heading into the home stretch. Luckily for the Wild, they are brimming with confidence after proving themselves against the defending Stanley Cup champions.
“We knew coming in it would be a tough game,” Wild forward Freddy Gaudreau said. “It feels good. The thing that feels the best is that we did it the right way. We were focused for the whole game, and it’s fun to get the result from an effort like that.”
If the Wild continue to do that, they will continue to establish themselves as legitimate Stanley Cup contenders.
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