If the regular season ended right now, the Wild and Vegas Golden Knights would lock horns in a first round Stanley Cup Playoff series.
So perhaps it's appropriate that Thursday night's game between the two clubs had the back-and-forth excitement and intensity of a playoff game.
Minnesota twice rallied from a goal down, including early in the third period before winning 3-2 in a shootout at T-Mobile Arena in what was, from a watcher's perspective, one of the most entertaining games of the season.
Other than gaining two points in the standings, that sentiment was not shared by Wild coach Dean Evason.
Video: Dean Evason postgame at Vegas
"It was not fun, that was not a fun hockey game," Evason said with a grin. "I joke, because obviously it was an exciting game. But we made some very unintelligent plays and that's ... due to their ability to check and hit sticks and be on things, their skillset. But we made it harder on ourselves in a lot of different situations. We definitely have to clean that up.
"But the one thing we didn't doubt about our group is that they tried their butts off. Certainly starting from our goaltender who saved our butts on several, several opportunities."
Indeed, it was odd-man rushes - both for and against - that was one of those areas where the Wild made it more difficult on themselves than it needed to.
Minnesota had a half dozen odd-man chances where it failed to even get a shot on Knights goaltender Robin Lehner.
The other way, it gave up too many to a speedy and skilled Vegas team. But the one thing the Wild had in its favor was its own goaltender, Cam Talbot, who was fantastic in making 35 saves through regulation and overtime, then three more stops in the shootout.
Talbot was especially good in the second period, denying Keegan Kolesar with back-to-back save of the year-quality stops, including a sprawling glove save, followed by a diving stick save.
Video: MIN@VGK: Talbot robs Kolesar twice in seconds
He'd add a breakaway save on Alex Tuch later in the period, just for good measure. In total, those saves kept the game tied at 1-1 after 40 minutes and gave the Wild a chance to go get a point or two in the standings.
"This probably isn't good, but it doesn't really surprise us anymore," Evason said. "It's just like, 'well, Cam saved our bacon again.' [But] we can't continue to put ourselves and our goaltenders in that position."
Talbot, who received the team's player of the game helmet after a stalwart 37-save effort in a win against St. Louis last week, was tasked with handing it off to tonight's player of the game. He chose Joel Eriksson Ek, who immediately turned around and gave it right back to Talbot.
Video: Players postgame at Vegas
"Yeah, I thought he should keep it today," Eriksson Ek said.
Eriksson Ek committed a goalie interference penalty early in overtime, one that was a bit dubious, but put him in the box for two minutes nonetheless.
As he sat in the sin bin, Eriksson Ek just hopes his teammates would kill his infraction. Once they did, Eriksson Ek said he had just one goal in mind.
"I wanted to win this game for Talbs who played an amazing game for us," he said. "I was lucky we could kill that penalty."
Talbot made four saves on the kill in overtime to preserve the tie game into the Wild's second shootout in its past three games.
Video: MIN@VGK: Spurgeon rips one-timer from circle for PPG
Unlike Minnesota's first of the season on Monday in San Jose, one that stretched into the eighth round, Talbot made sure this one went the minimum.
First, he gloved down a shot by Jonathan Marchessault, then stopped Shea Theodore.
Kevin Fiala banked a shot off the post, off Lehner's back and in, setting up Talbot for yet another glove save, this time on Tuch, to earn the bonus point and move the Wild to within four points of the Knights and idle Colorado Avalanche for first place in the West Division.
"It does [have a playoff feel]. Obviously every game is a four-point game this year, every game means a little bit more," Talbot said. "But when you come into a building like this and you know that you're gonna have to come through this team if you wanna make it through our division in the playoffs, this is a tough building to play in and this gives us a lot of confidence moving forward that we can come in here, play a game like that and come out with a big win."
Just how steep was the degree of difficulty in this win? The loss was the second straight for Vegas at T-Mobile Arena, the first time the Knights have lost back-to-back home games under coach Peter DeBoer. The Wild and Golden Knights entered the night with a combined record of 35-3-2 when scoring the first goal of the game, a trend that was bucked after Minnesota allowed William Karlsson to get Vegas on the board first, only to respond a few minutes later on Kirill Kaprizov's 13th of the season.
Video: MIN@VGK: Kaprizov tips a pass into back of the net
The Wild never led in the game until the final score was posted.
With the victory, the Wild halted a five-game road losing streak and, perhaps more importantly, put a stop to its brief two-game losing skid, joining some pretty solid company in the process. Per Wild PR, Minnesota remains one of six teams in the NHL this season to not have a losing streak longer than two games, joining Boston, Colorado, Pittsburgh, Vegas and Winnipeg.
Not surprisingly, all six teams currently sit inside the playoff cut line in their respective divisions.
"Huge. We've been playing so well at home and it hasn't translated for wins on the road lately, but tonight I thought we brought a great road game, we did the little things that we need to do to win games," Talbot said. "Tonight was just a gritty team effort and that's how you have to win on the road, and especially in a building like this."
Postgame Hat Trick: Wild 3, Golden Knights 2 (SO)
Video: Fiala scores shootout winner, leading to 3-2 victory