The Wild sit atop the Central Division. Can they actually win it?
This week will go a long way in determining that as the Wild play Seattle, Colorado and Vegas. All are near-locks to be playoff teams.
ST. PAUL -- The last time the Minnesota Wild sat alone atop the Central Division, the pandemic was still roaring worldwide, Kirill Kaprizov hadn’t fully established himself as an NHL superstar, and Matt Boldy was still in the minors.
Needless to say, a lot has changed since Dec. 28, 2021.
No longer are the Wild operating on that timeline, however, after finally chasing down the Dallas Stars for first place. Though they have been jockeying for position seemingly on a nightly basis over the past couple of weeks, the Wild woke up on Sunday morning alone in first place.
Can they actually win the Central Division? This week will go a long way in determining that as the Wild play the Seattle Kraken, Colorado Avalanche and Vegas Golden Knights. All are near-locks to be playoff teams.
“It’s a good time just coming down the stretch here,” Ryan Reaves said of the tough games ahead. “We’re going to jump right into the playoffs three days after the regular season ends. You want to be playing these teams. They’re going to be ramping up, so we’ve got to make sure we’re doing the same.”
The past couple of games for the Wild were a good example of why they want to be ramping up against playoff teams. There was a noticeable lack of intensity in the shootout loss to Philadelphia Flyers and the dramatic win over the Chicago Blackhawks, which is understandable considering neither opponent had much to play for.
“It has been a bit of a grind with the schedule,” Marcus Foligno said. “Just a little bit of a mental fog.”
Not to mention the Wild have been without Kirill Kaprizov for the past eight games. He still hasn’t skated as he recovers from a lower-body injury he suffered during a March 8 win over the Winnipeg Jets. The hope remains that he will be ready for the start of playoffs.
As much as the Wild are anxiously awaiting Kaprizov’s return to the lineup, they are 5-1-2 without him.
“The team plays hard for each other,” coach Dean Evason said when asked why the Wild have managed so well without their best player. “When he’s in there, he plays a team game, so we didn’t have to change anything. We stayed the same. Nobody has tried to step up and be Kirill Kaprizov and tried to score goals like he does.”
It’s been a collective team effort that has vaulted the Wild (42-22-9, 93 points) into first place in the Central Division. Now they have nine games left in the regular season and it will be a sprint to the finish with both the Stars (39-20-14, 92) and the Avalanche (43-23-6, 92) on their heels.
“It’s going to be a grind to the end,” Ryan Hartman said. “We want to keep moving forward.”
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