The Minnesota Wild are running away with the Central Division heading into their six-day bye week. Mikael Granlund and Devan Dubnyk are in the midst of career seasons, while a deep offense has the Wild on pace for one of the best regular seasons in franchise history at 39-13-6. However, they still have work to do. With 24 games remaining in the regular season, check out the top Wild storylines to watch as the season winds to a close.
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Granlund, Koivu and Zucker are dominating
Jason Zucker, Mikko Koivu and Mikael Granlund all registered a point in a win over the Pittsburgh Penguins on Nov. 25, the first time that head coach Bruce Boudreau decided to play the three together. Apparently the Wild's head coach liked what he saw. They've since become the driving force behind the Wild's potent offense. Zucker, Koivu and Granlund have combined for 110 points and a plus-84 rating in 38 games since Nov. 25. After managing superstar pairings like Alexander Ovechkin and Niklas Backstrom, as well as Corey Perry and Ryan Getzlaf, Boudreau has a history of keeping high-scoring lines together.
Associated PressTrevor Hagan
The Vezina Trophy is Devan Dubnyk's to lose
With just 24 games to go Dubnyk is in the driver's seat. The Wild goaltender leads the league with a .934 save percentage and a 1.97 goals-against average. He's the only goaltender in the league to average fewer than two, and the only goaltender to top .930 on the season. Washington Capitals goaltender Braden Holtby's 48 wins were enough to secure him the award despite stats that were inferior to Carey Price and Tuukka Rask, but Dubnyk isn't likely to run into that problem this year. If the Wild play even .500 hockey the rest of the way Dubnyk will likely lead the league in wins as well.
Associated PressPaul Battaglia
The Wild are favored to win both the Central Division and the Western Conference with 25 games to go, but their second division title isn't quite locked up. Recent NHL history offers up a cautionary tale. The Blues entered the final two weeks of the 2013-14 season with a seven-point lead on the rest of the division and a three-point lead in the conference. St. Louis proceeded to rattle off six straight losses, surrendering the central to Colorado and limping into a first-round playoff series with Chicago. They lost in six games, as recently acquired goaltender Ryan Miller posted a .876 save percentage through his final 12 games after logging a .920 during his first 14 games with the Blues. There are plenty of differences between the two teams, but seasons can change quickly in the NHL, while the new "bye week" hasn't been kind. Teams are 3-12-4 so far coming off the bye, a rough way to start the stretch run.
USA TODAY SportsBrad Rempel
Alex Tuch is probably a year away
With a nine-point lead on the Chicago Blackhawks in the Central Division and a playoff spot all but locked up, head coach Bruce Boudreau has a little wiggle room when it comes to his bottom six. He's used the cushion to give Tuch a shot, but the rookie remains a work in progress. His intimidating size and explosive shot have proven effective in the AHL, where Tuch has 12 goals and 13 assists in 35 games, but he has yet to register a point in the NHL after two three-game stints with the Wild. The Wild have more experienced hands available with Tuch still acclimating, meaning that his highly anticipated move to full-time NHL status could still be a year away.
USA TODAY SportsMarilyn Indahl
Gustav Olofsson has made significant progress
Jonas Brodin is back, but Olofsson has seemingly secured himself an ongoing role with the Wild. A former second-round pick, Olofsson filled in admirably for Brodin during his absence, registering two assists and averaging 15:22 of ice time in six appearances. His development gives the Wild additional defensive depth in the march to the playoffs.