Never mind the cliched desperation the Wild will face over the next couple of weeks. With nine games left in the regular season — five of them against the St. Louis Blues — the schedule itself will give the Wild a taste of the NHL playoffs.
Though the condensed 56-game schedule established two-game series for most of this season, the Wild have rarely played so many games against the same team in such a short period of time. That could benefit the Wild right now as they get a chance to make adjustments on the fly like they will have to do in the playoffs.
Asked about the logistics of nine games over the next 16 days, coach Dean Evason noted that even the two-game series have had a playoff vibe. He expects that to intensify in the coming days with the Wild well aware that the Blues (21-19-6, 48 points) are fighting for their playoff lives. They currently are fourth in the West Coast division, one point in front of the Arizona Coyotes (21-23-5, 47 points).
The Wild and Blues play three times this week — on Wednesday, Thursday and Saturday, all at the Xcel Energy Center. Then they close out the regular season with back-to-back games in St. Louis on May 12-13.
“You get to this time in the year and hope the hockey club is in that mindset to play a tight-checking game,” Evason said. “Just staying the course and all that good stuff. I think the games will have a playoff feel going forward here.”
It also will serve as a barometer heading into the playoffs. While the Wild have dominated the bottom-feeders of the West Coast division this season, they have been all over the place against the Blues. They won 2-0 last month, suffered a blowout 9-1 loss a few weeks ago, then followed that up with a 3-2 overtime loss.
“You have to prepare for a team that works their butt off,” Evason said of the Blues. “They crash the net. They have good structure. They are good in all areas. We’ve seen their best, and we have to play our best in order to compete with them.”
Not surprisingly, the Wild went back to Cam Talbot in goal for Wednesday’s game against the Blues. He has been outstanding over the past six weeks, putting together a 13-2-2 record, 2.03 goals-against average and .937 save percentage.
“He’s been awesome,” captain Jared Spurgeon said. “He just makes the saves look so easy. Whether it’s not giving up rebounds, or if he has to, he’s putting them to the corner. For us, knowing we have confidence in whoever is back there helps us play our game.”
It raises the question: How much rest will Talbot get down the stretch? How much rest does he even want?
“We don’t have conversations about the future,” Evason said. “We have talked to him in the past, like, ‘How do you feel?’ It’s not, ‘Can you go?’ Then we communicate with him. We do that with every player. It’s not a situation where we ask players if they feel good to go. We don’t talk about a week from now. We play the game and then revisit it after and make a decision.”
With nine games to go and the Wild (31-13-3, 65 points) nipping at the heels of division leaders Vegas (34-11-2, 70 points) and Colorado (31-11-4, 66 points), chasing down home-ice advantage for the first two rounds of the playoffs isn’t out the question.
That would be a huge bonus for the Wild considering how good they have been at home this season. They entered Wednesday’s game with a 17-4-0 record at the Xcel Energy Center this season. They have won 15 of their past 16 home games.
“It’s been fun to play in front of whatever limited fans we’ve had,” Spurgeon said. “Whenever we’re at home we get that energy. To be able to have (the fans) we do, and hearing how loud they get, it’s been awesome for us. Hopefully, going forward we can get some more in going into the playoffs.”