A wild-card spot appears to be the Minnesota Wild’s only way into the playoffs, and they have some work to do in solidifying their hopes of securing one.
Coming off a critical victory, the Wild will look to start stringing victories together again Saturday night when they host a Columbus Blue Jackets team that has even less room for error in the Eastern Conference.
Minnesota (35-22-9), atop the West wild-card race, snapped a three-game losing streak with a 2-1 home victory over the New York Rangers on Thursday. Though the Wild picked up points in two of those defeats and won five in a row prior to the skid, four teams are within striking distance of them for the two wild-card berths.
Minnesota trails the top three teams in the Central Division by double digits.
"Huge win," goaltender Darcy Kuemper told the team’s official website. "Can’t let too many games slip away this time of year. Huge points tonight, and just the way we played, I think we got back to our identity."
Kuemper made 29 saves and has gone 6-1-1 with a 1.71 goals-against average in his last eight. He stopped all 16 third-period shots faced while Zach Parise gave the Wild the lead just over a minute into the period.
Parise has scored in back-to-back games and has 16 points in 12 contests.
"What I liked was the two goals that we scored were goals that we can score in the playoffs," coach Mike Yeo said. "Those are the kind of goals that we have to score going forward. That was one of our keys to the game, we need a playoff offense mentality. I still think we can be a little bit more aggressive to the net."
Saturday’s contest completes a four-game homestand for the Wild, on which they’re 1-0-2 to extend their home point streak to a season-best nine games. They last went 10 straight without a home loss in regulation to close out the 2008-09 season.
Columbus (34-26-6) is tied for second place in the Metropolitan Division and also battling for a wild-card spot with three other teams close behind. The Blue Jackets have pushed their way into the thick of those races with a 5-1-1 stretch.
However, they let a one-goal lead entering the third period slip away in a 4-3 home shootout loss to San Jose on Thursday as they failed to win a third straight.
Ryan Johansen and R.J. Umberger scored to give Columbus a 2-1 lead, but it needed James Wisniewski’s goal with 4:58 left to ensure a point.
"We got a point tonight, would have loved to have gotten two," coach Todd Richards said. "But you look at the way the team played. I thought we played a hard game against a very good hockey team, a fast hockey team."
Sergei Bobrovsky made 24 saves and has gone 2-0-1 with a 1.30 GAA in his last three starts.
Blue Jackets forward Artem Anisimov, with six goals in his last seven games, didn’t play due to the birth of his first child Thursday.
The Blue Jackets beat the Wild 4-0 in the teams’ first meeting of the season Dec. 6 at Nationwide Arena. Backup Curtis McElhinney made 20 saves in his first of two shutouts this season.
Columbus defenseman Fedor Tyutin, who has four goals and 20 assists this season, will return after being activated from injured reserve on Friday. Tyutin has missed the last nine games with an ankle injury that occurred while playing for Russia at the Olympics.