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Thanksgiving offers Wild chance to rest, prepare for critical stretch

Minnesota will play three in four nights, all against Central foes beginning Friday

by Dan Myers @1DanMyers / Wild.com

ST. PAUL -- In the midst of a hectic stretch of games, Thanksgiving has brought the Wild home -- at least for a day or two.

Coming off a 5-4 win in Buffalo on Wednesday night, the Wild will play a Black Friday matinee against the Colorado Avalanche at Xcel Energy Center before hitting the road once again to play in St. Louis on Saturday.

The game begins a two-game road trip that continues Monday in Winnipeg and is the beginning of three-straight games against Central Division foes; the Wild has played just five games in the Central through the first eight-plus weeks of the regular season. 

The no-rest-for-the-weary mantra will be tested this weekend for sure, but it will be aided by the opportunity for players to spend the Thanksgiving holiday at home with family and friends, an opportunity that doesn't come every year. 

While there are no games in the NHL on Thursday, about half of the League's teams will spend the day on the road, gathering around a catered meal in a hotel instead of around the dinner table at home.

Rest assured, that in addition to the turkey and the mashed potatoes and stuffing, players will be getting plenty of rest knowing back-to-back games and three-in-four-days follows the holiday.

"And there will be plenty of football watching," said Wild goaltender Devan Dubnyk. 

The Dubnyks have a couple special guests in town for the day, as his parents are in from Calgary. Dubnyk said he's excited for the feast because his mom is putting together a feast.

"Growing up, Thanksgiving is never as big in Canada as it is in the States, but you still always have family over and turkey dinners," Dubnyk said. "It's cool as the kids get older, you start creating your own traditions at Thanksgiving and Christmas and Easter and all the different holidays."

Wild defenseman Mike Reilly is planning on heading back to his folks' place in Chanhassen, a place he spends a lot of time at in the summer, but not so much once the puck drops on the season.

Between Mike playing for the Wild and his sister Caitlin playing for the University of Minnesota women's hockey team, his brothers Connor and Ryan are off in other locales as well.

Mike said he didn't think his brothers would be able to make it back for the day. He also wasn't sure on the status of his sister, as the Gophers prepare to play at Lindenwood University this weekend in Wentzville, Missouri.

But that doesn't mean the house will be without family and friends. Reilly said he's inviting teammate Zack Mitchell over to enjoy a feast and watch the Minnesota Vikings game, which begins at 11:30 a.m.

"I think this will be the first year where we won't have the whole family together," Mike Reilly said. "But I'll get back and get to spend some time with the family. I don't get to see them as much during the season.

"I'm gonna watch some football and get some food in me but keep in mind that we have a game on Friday."

Even with some time to relax and football on the television, players will still have their minds on the game that matters most: The one against Colorado on Friday afternoon.

"Nothing beats being at home and having a home-cooked meal with the family," Dubnyk said. "There's definitely been times being on the road for Thanksgiving, so it's going to be nice to have a meal. But we can't make it too big, because we play at 3 o'clock [tomorrow]."


Critical stretch

Divisional games always have an extra bit of importance, but perhaps more so this season.

The old adage is that teams typically know what they are by American Thanksgiving. And while that sometimes may be true, teams in the Central Division are so stacked up that there promises to be plenty of movement between now and Christmas, much less the end of the season.

Video: Wild prepare for Colorado on Thanksgiving

"I think, and I told the players, from day one, it's a race to the playoffs," said Wild coach Bruce Boudreau. "We really know that our division is very, very competitive with no weak sisters at all. We have to really bear down against these guys and we have to beat them if we want to gain on them."

Just seven points separate the top wild card team in the west, Vancouver (25 points), with the 14th place team, Edmonton (18 points). Minnesota (23 points) is tied with six teams for the second and final wild-card position. 

Among those six are divisional rivals Colorado, Chicago and Dallas.

Minnesota's opponent on Saturday, the Blues, has built a solid lead atop the conference with 33 points. Monday's game against Winnipeg pits the Wild against the west's second-best club (29 points). 

"It'll be huge, but we gotta take it game-by-game, that's all," said Wild forward Charlie Coyle. "We'll focus on tomorrow and move on when we're over and done with that one.

"But we've gotta get these points as much as we can against these guys and it's gonna pay off down the road come and playoff time, we're going to wish we got these. We have to take advantage."

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