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Wild using success on road to get back into playoff picture

Look to carry momentum into game at Hurricanes after win at Capitals

by Tom Gulitti @TomGulittiNHL / Staff Writer

WASHINGTON -- Zach Parise couldn't help laughing about it.

The Minnesota Wild had done it again Friday, rebounding from a disappointing homestand with a complete team effort in a 2-1 victory against the defending Stanley Cup champion Washington Capitals at Capital One Arena.

"We're trying to figure it out too," Parise said after setting up Luke Kunin's winning goal with 7:35 remaining in the third period. "I guess just like we've been doing for a while we get ourselves right back in the mix."

The Wild (35-31-9) are back in the second wild card into the Stanley Cup Playoffs from the Western Conference after leapfrogging one point ahead of the idle Colorado Avalanche and Arizona Coyotes with seven games remaining. Minnesota is also three points behind the Dallas Stars for the first wild card, but its margin for error is small.

Video: MIN@WSH: Kunin picks the top corner on Holtby

The Stars, Avalanche and Coyotes each have eight games left. As coach Bruce Boudreau quickly noted, the Wild can't afford a letdown when they visit the Carolina Hurricanes at PNC Arena on Saturday (7 p.m. ET; FS-CR, FS-N, FS-WI, NHL.TV).

"It means temporarily we're in a playoff spot. So that's what that means," Boudreau said. "We've got to do it again tomorrow."

Boudreau remembers well the Wild's 3-0 win at the Tampa Bay Lightning, who have already clinched the Presidents' Trophy as the League's top team in the regular season, on March 7, and a 6-2 loss at the Florida Panthers, a team likely to miss the playoffs, the following day.

"So we can't afford that," Boudreau said. "We've got to be ready again."

Boudreau acknowledged before the game that the Wild have been most consistent this season at being inconsistent. They were coming off a 3-1 loss to the Avalanche on Tuesday that capped a five-game homestand when they went 1-3-1.

Before the win against the Capitals, they had been 1-4-1 since a 6-0-2 surge from Feb. 21-March 7 that put them back in the playoff picture.

The positive for the Wild is that they play three of their next four on the road, where they are 20-15-2. That's a sharp contrast to their 15-16-7 home record.

"The teams that we've played on the road have been all top NHL teams too," said forward Ryan Donato, referencing recent road wins at the Winnipeg Jets (3-2 on Feb. 26), the Calgary Flames (4-2 on March 2) and the one against Tampa Bay.

"For us, we kind of have that mentality of playing against a top NHL team and it kind of changes the way we play a little bit. We kind of play more to our system and kind of more hard.

"It's a simple word but we play harder. I think that's something that we have to continue to do."

Video: MIN@WSH: Greenway dekes and pots the opening goal

The Wild were frustrated after losing to the Avalanche on Tuesday but felt fortunate that they didn't lose any ground in the playoff race in the two days that followed. They watched the scoreboard from their hotel rooms in Washington on Thursday night and, though the Avalanche defeated the Stars 3-1, that only pulled them even in points with the Coyotes, who lost to 4-2 to the Panthers.

"As many times as we feel like we've let one slip, we're still there," Parise said. "Still, at the end of the day, we have to win our games. We have a tough schedule. You don't want to scoreboard watch."

Hoping for help from other teams is probably not a formula that will get the Wild into the postseason. But despite their struggles since going 12-5-2 in their first 19 games, they are in a playoff spot with seven games left and feel like they can control their destiny if they can play like they did against the Capitals.

After the Capitals set a team record with 58 shots on goal in a 5-4 overtime loss to the Lightning on Wednesday, the Wild limited them 22 shots on goal. Capitals forward Alex Ovechkin, who leads the NHL with 48 goals, was limited to one shot on goal and had six attempts blocked, after he had 11 shots on goal against Tampa Bay.

"That was just a playoff game," Minnesota goalie Devan Dubnyk said. "The focus was there. It was a good game both ways. It was a fun game to be a part of. You could tell both sides were playing tight. We created some really good chances and it was a similar game on both sides.

"I don't know what it is. With the way our schedule is we're going to have to do that for seven more games here. That was a start tonight."

Video: MIN@WSH: Dubnyk robs Carlson with blocker save

A similar effort and result against the Hurricanes on Saturday would move the Wild a step closer to salvaging a frustrating season. After all their ups and downs, they are grateful they still have an opportunity to do that.

"It's like a team that's getting outplayed, and if you let them hang around until the third period, and all the sudden they can get it going, then that team usually ends up winning the game and you get mad because, 'How'd that team win?'" Boudreau said. "That's what I'm sort of analogizing with this group here. You just hang around and we haven't been good on a consistent basis, but we're still there."

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