ST. PAUL, Minn. — In this 48-game truncated season, the Minnesota Wild and the rest of the NHL knew each game took on added significance.
Minnesota’s recovered from its tough start as the new pieces adapted to each other. Now, squarely in the playoff picture while tied with the Vancouver Canucks with 44 points to lead the Northwest Division, the Wild have a one-month sprint to the postseason.
But in their minds, the playoffs might as well have already begun.
“It’s not going to get any easier,” Minnesota forward Zach Parise said after Saturday’s 4-3 shootout win against the Los Angeles Kings. “We’re playing playoff hockey right now, let’s face it. From here on out we’re going to be playing teams trying to get in or fighting for seeding. For us to get the points when we can, the win when we can, it’s important.”
Parise scored his team-leading 15th goal, added an assist and started the shootout with a goal as the Wild converted all three attempts in the shootout to beat Los Angeles, which had won five of its past seven. Mikko Koivu and Matt Cullen scored in the shootout. Cullen added his seventh goal of the season and Charlie Coyle scored for the fourth time as Minnesota overcame a 3-1 third-period deficit against the defending Stanley Cup champions and is now 10-2 in its last 12 games.
The Wild’s seven-game win streak was stopped in Dallas on Friday, but the Wild quickly got back on the winning track, playing the second game of a back-to-back in which the Kings were waiting for them in Minnesota. It was the Wild’s fifth game in eight days, but they had enough juice to come back from two goals down in the final period.
“All I can say is, huge amounts of character by our team,” coach Mike Yeo said. “Back-to-back games, they’re sitting here waiting for us, down 3-1 against a team that doesn’t give you much. You’ve got to fight for every inch that you get out on the ice; just a great job by our guys.”
Koivu added two assists and now has a seven-game point streak. Goaltender Niklas Backstrom, who stayed in Minnesota while the team traveled to Dallas, looked strong after the rest and made 28 saves against the Kings and stopped one of two shots he faced in overtime. Backstrom has started 17 of the Wild’s last 19 games. He’s won a career-high eight straight and is 16-3-1 in his past 20 games to lead the NHL with 19 wins this season.
“We’ve been riding him hard,” Yeo said of Backstrom. “He’s a guy who pushes himself hard. He takes care of himself. But at the same time, we’ve got to make sure we’re monitoring that. Again, it just goes back to winning hockey games and he did that for us.”
Minnesota is 17-6-1 in its past 24 games and ended the month of March 11-4-0, tying the franchise record for most wins in a calendar month. The Wild didn’t want to make any excuses about playing for the fifth time in eight games. After the comeback win, they didn’t need to.
“It’s not fair to sit here and make 5-in-8 excuses; everyone’s dealing with it, but we’re dealing with it pretty well,” Parise said.
Koivu added: “I think every team is basically on the same page. It’s also fun. You don’t have to even think about it. It’s just, you get rest, you come to the rink, it’s pretty much always a game day and travel. I think we prepare for this, probably every player, every team. So far we’ve been doing a good job. Still a lot of games left and we want to keep rolling.”
Getting the game to overtime and taking one point, the Wild stayed strong through a back-and-forth overtime. Then, they moved to 4-1 in shootouts this season. This season, Minnesota hasn’t gotten past the third round of the shootout. Parise is 3 of 5 in shootouts this season. Koivu is 3 of 5 and Cullen is a 3 of 3.
“Those are huge points,” Yeo said. “Again, those are key guys going out on the ice and they’re dialed in. They recognize that and they’re ready to be at their best in those moments.”