It's game number 64 on the schedule, but the Minnesota Wild knows its Tuesday showdown with the Colorado Avalanche will feel like game number 83, and go a long way in determining if there is one.
"That’s a playoff game," Devan Dubnyk said, after making 17 saves on Sunday to draw the Wild two points closer to Colorado. "That’s going to be a lot of fun. It’s going to be an opportunity for us to get back in a playoff spot. You don’t have to say much more than that. We’re going into a game against a team that we’ve had some pretty good battles against."
A quick glance at the standings will support Dubnyk's analysis, and also call to attention the importance of the Wild and Avalanche's latest tilt in Saint Paul.
Two points separate the teams in the standings, with the Avalanche in sole possession of the second wild card spot into the 2016 Stanley Cup Playoffs.
A Minnesota victory would leave both teams with 68 points, but move the Wild into eighth by virtue of have played one fewer game. It would be the first time the Wild was in a playoff spot since the NHL All-Star break.
"I'm looking forward to it, and everybody is looking forward to it," interim Head Coach John Torchetti said. "We just have to come out and play our game.
"We know [Colorado has] a great team, and we're all battling for a playoff spot, and just keep focusing on game-to-game. We can't worry about 20 games from now, just our next game."
With 17 games remaining after the Wild plays Colorado on Tuesday, each remaining date on the schedule becomes more vital. The Wild and Avalanche meet for the final time this season on March 26 at Pepsi Center, game number 76 for the Wild.
"We need wins right now; that’s the bottom line," said Erik Haula, who scored the game-winner, unassisted on Sunday with 9:31 remaining in regulation. "It doesn’t matter who gets them or what happens in the game as long as we get those two points.
"It’s playoffs right now already and we’re ready for a huge tilt on Tuesday."
On Sunday, the Wild cleared one of its hurdles before its crucial Tuesday game: winning in Saint Paul. Though the Wild had won at home seven days prior to its Sunday win against the Florida Panthers. But it had been 62 days since the Wild had won in Saint Paul at Xcel Energy Center, and getting that feeling back before what's being billed as a playoff game.
"You’re not thinking about it, but at the end, you still know it’s been a while," said Mikko Koivu, who became the Wild's franchise leader in games played on Sunday. "It wasn’t easy by any means. We can play a lot better. I don’t think that was our best. You need to win those games too even if you’re not feeling great and things aren’t necessarily going the way you want, you’ve got to find a way to win a hockey game, and that’s a good sign."