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Before The Break, Wild Wants To End On High Note

by Evan Sporer / Minnesota Wild

After playing the Arizona Coyotes on Monday, the Minnesota Wild will have six days off as the NHL All-Star Break begins. It's the Wild's longest layoff of the regular season, until Minnesota can practice at 2 p.m. on Monday, February 1, an NHL-mandated stay-away.

During that time, 22 Wild players will spend the time off however they see fit, while Devan Dubnyk, Minnesota's lone all-star, will head to Nashville.

And though the Wild finds itself in better standings than at last year's All-Star Break, it's Minnesota's footing that is beginning to slip, making its final pre All-Star Game matchup more important.

"If we're able to get a win here tomorrow, we can have that confidence that we can have a record like [last year's] and finish like that going into the playoffs," Devan Dubnyk said after practice on Sunday. "But it's nice to be in a situation where it's not an absolute necessity to do what we did."

The Wild entered the 2015 All-Star Break last season with a 20-20-6 record, seven points out of a playoff spot, needing to leapfrog four teams to find its way into the top eight.

Though Minnesota finds itself higher in the standings this time around, having lost six of its past seven games, the break will allow the Wild to clear their heads.

"For me, it's trying to get away from hockey as far as I can," Jason Zucker said. "I'm going to go home to Vegas with my family, and my fiancée and daughter, and relax, and not do anything. For me, it's going to be huge. For everybody it's going to be huge."

And while the Wild had a tougher path to the playoffs last season, its run of success began right before the break. Minnesota earned five out of a possible eight points in its four games before the NHL closed up shop in late January, and rode that momentum once play resumed.

So while hockey may not be the topic of conversation as the Wild goes on break, ending on a high note would be the first thing it remembers when the skates are laced back up in a week.

"There's nothing to save it for," Matt Dumba said. " The boys are excited to get on the ice and prove ourselves going into this break that we're a good team, and we can win games. That's what we're going to do after this break, is come back, and be refreshed, and win games."

Winning is what the Wild did quite often after the All-Star Break in 2015. To make the playoffs, Minnesota really didn't have any other choice.

"We put ourselves in a little bit of a better position this year," Dubnyk said. "We haven’t done ourselves a whole lot of favors here in this last stretch, but fortunately we're still in a much better situation than we were going into the break last year."

The urgency now will be created by wanting to not only maintain, but also better the Wild's current position. For the first time Dec. 12, Minnesota woke up on Sunday not in one of the top-three guaranteed playoff spots in the Central Division, or in the top wild card position.

"It should, absolutely (give us urgency), " Jason Zucker said. "It's not the way we would have wanted it to happen. We were pretty far ahead for a little while, but that's what happens when you go on a losing streak like that."

With 34 games including the one on Monday left on the schedule, the Wild knows it will be tested down the stretch, and while it doesn't need last season's answers, it doesn't mean they're not welcome.

"We want to do it because we want to, not because we have to," Dubnyk said.

A NEW BREAK

Last season, the All-Star Break came at the perfect time for Dubnyk.

He played each of the Wild's four games in six days after getting traded from the Arizona Coyotes. With his family and home still in Arizona, Dubnyk used the layoff to rest and recuperate, physically, mentally, and logistically.

"It kind of worked out well that after the trade I was able to come here for a few games, and we hadn't planned to go anywhere anyways," Dubnyk said. "I was able to go pack up the house for once, and get everybody ready to go."

Fast-forward a year, one that has transformed Dubnyk's career and life, and the 29-year-old is headed to his first All-Star Game, representing the Wild and the Central Division.

While many players take the time over the All-Star Break to rest, Dubnyk wouldn't have it any other way.

"I enjoy the season, and I've found a pretty good routine as far as getting away from the pressures and whatnot on days in between," Dubnyk said. "It's an honor, and it's going to be a lot of fun."

Dubnyk's lack of All-Star plans last year meant nothing had to be reorganized or cancelled to facilitate his move. This break, he wouldn't have had many options either way with newborn son Parker.

"For us, we might have had a tough time going anywhere anyway with the new addition, so we're all going to go to Nashville, and it will be fun," Dubnyk said.

There are some who wonder if the All-Star Game takes the place of what could provide some much needed rest for the NHL's stars, those who generally are used more in games.

But Dubnyk said nothing about going to Nashville has him anything other than smiling.

"It's not like you're going somewhere you have to win Game 7 of the playoffs," Dubnyk said. "You go, and enjoy yourself, and enjoy being around the best players in the world, and have as much fun as you can."

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