ST. PAUL -- The trip to the West Coast is one of the most daunting for every team in the NHL.
It involves travel crossing at least two times zones, to play games against three teams that are typically amongst the best in the League. A set of back-to-back games is almost always on the schedule, as well. All three California teams, especially Anaheim and Los Angeles, are two of the biggest, most physical teams left in the Western Conference.
It's why it was easy for loyalists of the Minnesota Wild to check the schedule and swallow hard last week after a New Year's Eve loss to the Columbus Blue Jackets snapped its franchise record 12-game winning streak. A daunting trip to California loomed. After that, a home game against Montreal and another tough road trip next weekend to Dallas and Chicago followed.
"I don't think we were ever worried about a letdown after the Columbus game," said Wild forward Zach Parise. "I don't think any one of us was worried how we were going to respond after getting our streak snapped. We understood that it wasn't going on forever, but I think we understood that there were still some areas, even though we were winning, that we would could be better at."
Instead, the Wild responded in style in its venture west, showing all kinds of gumption in a come-from-behind 5-4 victory at the SAP Center in San Jose on Thursday to start the trip.
Trailing 3-2 at Staples Center on Saturday, Parise buried a power-play goal with under a minute remaining in regulation to tie the score at 3-3. The Wild lost in overtime, but grinded out a crucial point.
Playing the second of back-to-backs, Minnesota answered the bell in the trip finale, scoring twice in the second period to deliver coach Bruce Boudreau a 2-1 win in his return to Anaheim.
"Tough stretch, three [games] in four [days], travel, big teams, heavy teams, teams that have had success in the past, and we know that if you want to win in the playoffs, those are teams that you're gonna have to be able to match up against," said Wild forward Jason Pominville. "It was nice to find a way to dig deep and get some points."
Two wins in three games and five out of a possible six points on the trip later, it's safe to say the Wild has responded well after the streak-snapping loss to Columbus.
"When you look at the schedule and you're looking at these three teams, and you're looking at Montreal and Chicago and Dallas next week, you're going, 'Uh oh.' It's a tough stretch," Boudreau said. "And usually losing streaks follow winning streaks, so it was really good for them to just sort of [say], 'Okay, you lost, get over it,' and start playing again."
It wasn't always easy.
The stingiest team in the League for much of the season, things had gotten more loose defensively in the past handful of games for Minnesota.
Rarely over the first two months were opponents scoring more than two or three goals per game. Entering play on Sunday, the Wild had allowed four goals in five of its previous six games.
Rarely will a coach wish for a 2-1-type game, but Boudreau opined for one after the game in San Jose, just so the Wild could find its defensive structure again.
It didn't happen in Los Angeles, but the Wild appeared to take a small step.
Sunday's 2-1 win was just what the doctor ordered.
"It just slipped away for a while, and I truly believe it was because we were scoring a lot of goals and people were starting to cheat for the offense rather than doing the job that we're supposed to do and letting everything else take care of itself," Boudreau said. "I thought we had some good chances where we could've still scored three and four goals, but we played strong defensively, and I was really happy for [Dubnyk], because it's his first really good game for the last couple. So I was glad he got back into the groove."
Now the challenge for Minnesota will be to build on Sunday's game in Anaheim, where the Wild looked much more like the team from the season's first 10 weeks.