With home-ice advantage for their opening round Stanley Cup playoff series on the line, the Minnesota Wild have plenty to play for when they host the Calgary Flames on Thursday at St. Paul, Minn.
The Wild (51-22-7, 109 points) are tied with the St. Louis Blues for second spot in the Central Division knowing that is the team they will meet in the first round of the playoffs.
The Wild hold second place thanks to one game in hand, but the Blues will vault over them if they end up tied by having more regulation wins. The Wild now will look to regroup from Tuesday’s 5-3 loss to the cellar-dwelling Arizona Coyotes, which snapped a five-game winning streak.
“Line combinations weren’t good, our pairs weren’t good, our team wasn’t good,” coach Dean Evason said. “When I say there wasn’t one good player on our hockey club … we could talk to every one of the guys and say they didn’t play well. We could go through the entire lineup from the goalie to every other player.”
Minnesota will finish the regular season Friday at home against the Colorado Avalanche, while the Blues on Friday play host to the Vegas Golden Knights to cap their campaign.
How much of a surprise was Minnesota’s loss to Arizona? The Coyotes snapped a 10-game losing skid against a Wild team that now has only two regulation-time defeats in its last 22 games (17-2-3).
Despite all that success, the Wild don’t believe they’re playing at their best.
“I’ve got to be better,” Minnesota goalie Marc-Andre Fleury said. “I feel like I’m giving up a lot of goals lately. It’s making me mad. But keep working and keep practicing hard and move on to the next one.”
The Pacific Division-champion Flames (50-20-10, 110 points) arrive in Minnesota after a thrilling 5-4 overtime win over the Nashville Predators on Tuesday.
The Flames erased three deficits – the final one with 0.1 second remaining in regulation – in a game that also featured plenty of bad blood in anticipation of a possible playoff meeting.
“I’ve played over 1,000 games now and that’s probably a top-five game that I’ve been a part of,” Flames forward Milan Lucic said. “With the goals, the hits, the fights, the emotions, the crowds. It was a great game to be a part of.”
Even though they have the top spot in the division sewn up, the Flames have not relaxed a bit, and that’s by design. Coach Darryl Sutter is doing what he can to prevent his team from coasting down the stretch and creating bad habits with a playoff series just around the corner.
“Darryl’s been on us about being in playoff mode for the past 10-15 games, and I think that’s what makes him a really good coach and why we’ve had success as a team,” Lucic said. “He prepares us and gets us ready and fired up for every game no matter what. If we play them, if we don’t play them, whoever we play, it was definitely a playoff-type of game.”
While operating within that mindset, the Flames are on a 10-1-1 run and are 7-0-1 on the road going back to March 19.
“What that game did for us, bringing us together and at this time of year, that game did so much more for us than people would probably expect,” forward Matthew Tkachuk said of Tuesday’s victory. “We’re definitely feeling good, and that game prepared us for what this next little bit is going to be like.”
–Field Level Media
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