Though the Minnesota Wild has been playing games over the past seven or so weeks with major postseason implications, none of them have been playoff games.
"A lot of people throw the term, 'these are playoff games' out there in the regular season, but the fact of the matter is they're not really," Ryan Carter said.
Luckily for the Wild, its locker room is filled with players who have been to the Stanley Cup Playoffs, and that experience and past success is something it thinks it can draw upon as it heads to the postseason for the fourth time in as many seasons.
"We know what to expect from playoff hockey, and we know what our team can bring, so we just have to go out there and play our game," Marco Scandella said. "Work hard, and we know that we have some really good players in the locker room, and a really good team."
Of the Wild's current active roster, 21 players accompanied the Wild to the 2015 Stanley Cup Playoffs. That doesn't include forward Jarret Stoll, who is lauded for his postseason experience having one two Stanley Cups with the Los Angeles Kings, and Chris Porter, who, as a member of the St. Louis Blues, has gone to the playoffs each of the past four years.
"That's the leadership in there, and then the experience," said interim Head Coach John Torchetti, who will lead a team into the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the first time in his coaching career. "It always pays off. With the ups and downs that we talk about with a playoff series, we've been through it."
What this recent run has done, according to Torchetti, is take a lot out of the Wild. It was able to pass three teams in the standings and make up six points in the standings from the day Torchetti was promoted, to this Tuesday, 51 days later.
"We've spent a lot mentally, too," Torchetti said. "It's a lot to go through what this team has gone through the last seven weeks. From the change, to getting re-energized, and then the pressures of winning, and losing, and making the playoffs, and saying, 'you're not playing well, and you're not going to accomplish anything,' and they've done a pretty good job so far."
But having now officially punched its postseason ticket, Torchetti said some of the mental burden will be alleviated, and now the Wild can set its sights on using its regular season finale Saturday against the Calgary Flames as a final tune-up.
"I don't know that it puts you at ease, but it re-focuses you," Carter said. "The focus is getting in for a long period of time, and now it's about preparing yourself to be better.
"At that moment, it kind of switches. It's like, 'It doesn’t matter. Let's focus on what we need to do, and what we need to be good,' and that's in the playoffs."
Looking to re-establish its forecheck and checking mentality, Torchetti said the Wild's current schedule — three days between game number 81 and 82 — could prove beneficial.
Regarding Saturday, he said whoever is healthy will play, but players needing rest will get it.
"It would be better off that way for them, and be ready for the playoffs, going in healthy," Torchetti said.
There were eight players who participated in the Wild's optional practice on Thursday, including forward Thomas Vanek, who has missed the past two games, and three of the past four with an upper-body injury.
Vanek left the ice early, and Torchetti said there is no exact timetable as to when he could return.
"Day-by-day; that's how we keep it," Torchetti said. "Today wasn't good results for him, so we have to wait and see. The healing could take a day, could take three, could take another seven, so we'll have to wait and see."