Wild.com's Dan Myers gives three takeaways from the Wild's 3-2 win against the San Jose Sharks at SAP Center in San Jose, California on Thursday night:
1. Minnesota started its California trip in style.
Don't bother looking at the records of these West Coast teams ... the trip to The Golden State is one of the toughest road swings for any team no matter how good these clubs are.
The Sharks, Kings and Ducks may reside at the bottom of the Pacific Division, but each presents unique challenges. San Jose had won three consecutive games entering the night Thursday, including wins over desperate teams like Toronto and Pittsburgh.
The Wild, coming off a 3-1 win against Nashville back in St. Paul on Tuesday, entered the night winners in five of its past seven games and had a chance to make some serious postseason hay. Of all the Western Conference wild card contenders, Minnesota and Nashville were the only ones in action.
After seeing the Predators knock off the Dallas Stars earlier in the night, the Wild held serve, jumping back into a playoff spot for the first time since Dec. 6. But it didn't just scrape into the second wild card, it jumped all the way up to the first wild card spot. It now leads a group of five teams in the West separated by just one point.
That's right, one single point is the difference between the Wild (75 points), Vancouver, Nashville, Winnipeg and Arizona (all have 74). Chicago, which won on Thursday and has been victorious in four consecutive games, lurks just back of the pack with 70 points.
2. The Wild weathered the early storm.
Coaches all the way back to Jacques Lemaire have noted the energy the Sharks bring out of the gate, and that was no different on Thursday. Survive the first 10 minutes, and the chances of winning at the Shark Tank improve significantly.
Back in November, the Sharks scored twice in the first 5:55 of the game in building a 4-0 first-period lead. Minnesota nearly climbed all the way back in, but the four-goal deficit proved to be one goal too many in an eventual 6-5 loss.
San Jose piled up a bulk of the early shots and had a couple of grade-A chances slide just wide of the Wild's cage.
Video: MIN@SJS: Suter hammers slap shot home off the draw
Instead, it was Minnesota that was able to light the lamp first on a blast from the point by Ryan Suter at 8:34. The goal was Suter's eighth of the season, one off his career high.
Video: MIN@SJS: Galchenyuk pots backhander from the doorstep
San Jose was able to knot the game six minutes later, but Minnesota took control in the second period, getting goals from Alex Galchenyuk and Zach Parise to take a two-goal lead into the final frame.
3. Luke Kunin looked the part.
The former Wisconsin Badger was provided with a big task on Thursday: fill in on the Wild's top line in place of Eric Staal, who is not with the team as he tends to a death in his family.
Kunin, who has flipped often between wing and center, proved how valuable that versatility is once again by sliding right into the spot vacated by Staal between a couple of red-hot scorers in Parise and Kevin Fiala.
But he was no placeholder on this night. Kunin threaded a fantastic pass to Parise to set up No. 11's goal 15 minutes into the second period, a goal which pushed Minnesota's lead to two.
Video: MIN@SJS: Parise taps Kunin's nice feed past Jones
For Parise, it was his fourth consecutive game with a goal and his 25th of the campaign.
Fiala extended his point streak to six games, but saw his streak of multi-point games snapped at five.
Certainly deserving of a mention: goaltender Alex Stalock, who was absolutely ridiculous, especially in the third period. He made 40 saves to improve to 11-3-1 over his past 15 games.