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Rink Report: Wild Seeks Consistency Down the Stretch

Among the first orders of business: finding uniformity with its forward group

by Dan Myers @1DanMyers /

ST. PAUL -- Perhaps the most important goal the Minnesota Wild must accomplish before the postseason, besides clinching a spot, will be finding chemistry among its forward group.

The Wild is within reach of one of those objectives after a 3-2 win over the San Jose Sharks on Tuesday night, a victory that dropped its magic number for a fifth consecutive postseason berth to two. 

Any victory the rest of the season or any regulation loss by the Los Angeles Kings will do the trick, meaning the Wild could clinch as spot in the Stanley Cup Playoffs as soon as Thursday.

Once that is accomplished, building that chemistry will become job No. 1.

Like the win against the Sharks moved Minnesota closer to the playoffs, it also may have been the first step in finding consistent offensive lines.

For the first time in a while, Wild coach Bruce Boudreau arrived at practice on Wednesday and didn't need to tinker with his forward group. He's likely to ice the same group against the Philadelphia Flyers on Thursday, and the hope now is, the lines can build on the outing versus San Jose.

"It was an anomaly," Boudreau quipped. "Obviously, success will be the difference of whether they stay the same or they don't. The reason Mikko [Koivu]'s line has been the same since November is because they've had success and they've found a chemistry."

Video: Bruce Boudreau Practice

Eric Staal played next to familiar faces Zach Parise and Charlie Coyle on Tuesday, a line that looked good. They played together for a good portion of the first part of the season before the line eventually grew a little stale. 

In order to inject a little life into the group, Boudreau flipped Coyle and Parise against the Sharks so that both wingers played on their off hands. The early returns were promising: Parise had two assists and Coyle scored the game-winning goal on Tuesday. Coyle has now scored goals in back-to-back games while Parise will carry a three-game point streak into the Flyers game.

"Maybe they just needed to switch sides," Boudreau said. "But they've been pretty good recently."

While finding a consistent top-6 is imperative before the postseason, a top-9 would be ideal.

Boudreau tried Nino Niederreiter and Jason Pominville flanking Martin Hanzal on Tuesday, a group that showed immediate chemistry and had positive results.

Niederreiter and Pominville have developed plenty of chemistry over the past year, but incorporating the newcomer Hanzal into the group will be a challenge. 

Pominville played with Hanzal in Florida earlier this month and liked what he saw.

"I thought we had a pretty good game there," Pominville said. "I like playing with him. He's a big boy. What's nice is he's so good on faceoffs, so you usually you start with the puck a lot when you're out there with him. He's a guy that's reliable defensively and really good down low in our end. And if we can keep the puck out of our end, I like our chances."

Video: Wild Practice At Home

Defend the house

Two games ago in Winnipeg, the Wild were too loose defensively, allowing the Jets an opportunity to have unfettered access to grade-A scoring areas.

The result was an ugly first period where Minnesota allowed two goals over the first five minutes and faced a three-goal deficit at intermission. All three goals were scored from the hashes or closer, with the latter two from on top of the crease.

Minnesota did a much better job of defending what players call "the house" on Tuesday. 

To get an idea of what the house is, imagine the defensive zone, with the goal posts serving as the peak of the roof. Draw diagonal lines to each faceoff dot, walls to the top of each circle, then the foundation through the high slot.

"It's always important, as a team, you want to keep them outside [the house]," Pominville said. "If you do that, usually you give your goalie the best chance to make the saves. When you give them those grade-As, that's when it becomes tough."

The Sharks managed just four shots in the first period and few, if any, from the house, which allowed goaltender Devan Dubnyk to settle in.

As a result, he looked as comfortable in the crease over the final 40 minutes as he had in a few weeks.

"They were shots I was able to see," Dubnyk said. "The guys were blocking out, and I was able to make saves on them. The play in front of me was in control."

Scouting the Flyers

Needing a strong month of March to make the postseason, the exact opposite has happened for Philadelphia, which has won just once over the past 16 days.

Now in the midst of a four-game road trip that, from an opponents perspective, will get progressively more difficult, the Flyers' playoff hopes are on life support. They begin the day seven points back of the Toronto Maple Leafs for the second wild card position. The Leafs are in action tonight in Columbus, meaning that deficit could grow larger before Philadelphia is back on the ice.

The Flyers began their four-game road swing with a 3-2 loss in Winnipeg on Tuesday and will continue it this weekend with back-to-back contests in Columbus and Pittsburgh.

Philadelphia is led offensively by Jakub Voracek, who has 38 assists among his 55 points this season but is a minus-27. Wayne Simmonds is one goal away from reaching the 30-goal plateau for a second consecutive season.

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