At this point of the season, four days between games seems like an extended vacation. Tonight, the Minnesota Wild returns from its spring break to host the team atop the Eastern Conference standings, the New York Rangers.
Minnesota wants to jump right back into the swing of things against the potent Rangers. They’ll have rested legs coming out of the gate.
“You get some energy back with some days off there and a couple practices to work on some things,” Wild defenseman Jared Spurgeon said. “We have to try not to sit back, and get right back into it. Obviously, they’ve been playing while we were off. We just have to get back to the way we were playing before we had those four days.”
The last time these two teams met was before Halloween when the Rangers used three third-period goals in a 5-4 comeback win at Madison Square Garden on Oct. 27. The look and feel of both clubs is vastly different.
“You sort of notice some of the systems, but it was so long ago,” Spurgeon said. “Both of us have changed. Obviously there have been some trades during the season. We have to worry about our team game and get to it as fast as we can.”
Minnesota has been one of the National Hockey League’s hottest team, while the Rangers have a lone win in its previous three games and two in its last five. Though, the Blue Shirts have already clinched a playoff spot and will take Metropolitan Division title with a win. New York is four points back of the Anaheim Ducks in the Presidents’ Trophy race.
However, Wild Captain Mikko Koivu doesn’t put labels on the ‘hottest’ or ‘best’ teams in the League. He is only thinking about tonight’s confrontation.
“I don’t want to start that game. I don’t think that’s fair. All that matters is the next game,” Koivu said. “The previous games don’t help you at all, at this point when you’re getting ready for the next one.
“We’re not thinking about the past or what’s after this. We’ve got a handful tonight; we’re just prepared for this one.”
Winners of its pervious five games, the break helped the players recuperate, but came at a time when the Wild was red hot. Head Coach Mike Yeo knows the challenge will be to ramp up its play quickly against a quality opponent.
“We had a good rhythm going there,” Yeo said. “We got an opportunity to get some rest, to turn our brains off a little bit, but we’re going to have to be prepared to dial it back up pretty quickly and try to find that rhythm again.”
With six games in 10 days, the rest did come at a good time for the players.
“There was a lot of hockey before that,” Koivu said. “I thought that was good for us. Mentally you want to take some time off from the rink and then get ready again. We’re well rested now and ready to go.”
With the Wild’s six remaining games against likely playoff teams, Minnesota will end the season playing fiercely competitive hockey.
“Playing against a team like tonight in the Rangers, a top team where you’re going to have to play your best to get the outcome that you want,” Spurgeon said. “You want to play those top teams to get your game to the level that you need to get into the playoffs.”
Don’t worry, Spurgeon and the Wild aren’t getting ahead of themselves and knows the club is still working towards securing a spot in the postseason.
“We’re still not there yet.”
The club used the time to get healthy and return injured players to practice with Kyle Brodziak, Matt Cooke and Nate Prosser all rejoining the team this week. Only Brodziak will be in the lineup tonight, replacing Erik Haula on the fourth line. The Wild has depth heading into the final six games of the season, something it hasn’t had the luxury of having seemingly all season.
“We like depth and the fact that we have a lot of players that we can plug in,” Yeo said.
When Cooke is ready for a return, the club will have three forwards that will be scratched on a nightly basis. The six players that have made up the club’s fourth line have played key roles at various points of the season. Yeo met with the players to discuss their roles on the team and keeping a positive attitude.
“It is going be challenging for those guys, they all have arguments; it can be justified their reasons they should still be in the lineup and all those guys have had an meaningful impact in getting us to where we’re at,” Yeo said. “As competitors you want players who want to play, so it was just making sure we’re handling it the right way.”
Saint Paul road construction will have an impact on Wild fans attending games for the rest of the season. Effective April 1 through November 2015, Kellogg Blvd. will be closed for construction between Market Street and Wabasha Street. To learn more about the detours and alternate routes, go here.