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Nothing will come easy for Wild during season's sprint to finish line

All but two of Minnesota's 13 remaining games will come against teams out of postseason contention

by Dan Myers @DanMyers /

EDMONTON -- No game in the NHL is ever easy. 

Just ask the Wild, which has upended some of the very best teams in the National Hockey League this season, while also dropping games to teams outside the playoff picture like Arizona, Vancouver and Edmonton.

But following a 4-1 loss to the Oilers on Saturday night at Rogers Place, the Wild knows its margin for error down the stretch is about to get a whole lot thinner. 

If there was any part of the schedule considered "easy," it was its most recent stretch to conclude the month of February and begin March.

Minnesota just finished a span of seven games against teams, either currently or at the time, outside the playoff picture in their respective conferences. Included were games against Arizona, Detroit and Carolina, as well as this weekend's back-to-back versus Vancouver and Edmonton. 

With the exception of the Hurricanes, who are six points out of the second wild card spot in the East, all of those teams are likely fighting for draft positioning in June. 

That won't be the case for the Wild moving forward.

First is a rematch against the Colorado Avalanche on Tuesday at Xcel Energy Center. Currently the second wild card in the West after a 5-2 win over the Coyotes on Saturday, the Avalanche won 7-1 against the Wild at Pepsi Center last weekend. 

They won 7-2 in Denver on Jan. 6. 

Minnesota scored a 3-2 shootout win in St. Paul the day after Thanksgiving, but considering what has happened in each of the past two meetings, it seems like a lifetime ago.

The Wild hopes to rectify that on home ice Tuesday.

Video: Locker room postgame at Edmonton

"Obviously, the last two times we played them we weren't very good," said Wild defenseman Ryan Suter. "They were really good. For us to have a chance at home, getting back home we've been playing well. We have to continue that at home."

Things only get more difficult from there.

Minnesota's first trip to visit Pacific Division-leading Vegas occurs next Friday before a rematch with the Coyotes in Glendale on Saturday. Arizona has had the Wild's number this season, winning each of the first two meetings, and has been solid in 2018. The Wild will also be on the second half of back-to-back games while losing an hour on the flight east from Nevada.

After that, nine of Minnesota's final 10 games will come against teams either in the postseason or within one point of a playoff spot, with five of those games coming on the road. The Wild finishes the season with three games in California, widely regarded as the toughest road trip in the NHL. 

Video: Bruce Boudreau postgame at Edmonton

"There's teams breathing down our back every night," said Wild coach Bruce Boudreau. "Every game is difficult."

Before going to California, the Wild has home and away games against both Nashville and Dallas. The Predators appear destined to win the Central Division and be the top seed in the Western Conference come playoff time. They are two points behind the Tampa Bay Lightning in the race for the President's Trophy and had a 10-game winning streak snapped in a shootout loss Saturday against New Jersey.

Dallas is three points behind the Wild for third place in the Central, and those games at the end of the month could very well decide who finishes where at the end of the season.

Minnesota also has home games against Los Angeles (one point out of a playoff spot), Boston (the second best team in the Eastern Conference) and Edmonton (who has now won each of the first two games against the Wild this season). 

"So far we've been doing better against the teams that are in the playoffs than the teams that are out of the playoffs," Boudreau said. "No game's going to be easy, [but] we've got to find ways to win."

It's a schedule that certainly promises to be exciting. But it definitely won't be easy.

"It's funny how it seems every March it's like this, but that's part of it," Suter said. "We've got to find a way to get points, to have solid efforts."


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