Threes a charm for Wild as they host Capitals

SAINT PAUL, Minn. — For the Minnesota Wild, three has been a common number in their on-going homestand, which is quickly solidifying their playoff chances.

The Wild host the Washington Capitals on Thursday having gone 2-0-1 in the first three games of their five-game home stint, and having taken a 3-0 lead — with mixed results — in all three games. They lost in overtime to Arizona after seeing their 3-0 lead slip away. They blanked Chicago 3-0 after a season-best performance in goal from Devan Dubnyk. And on Tuesday they beat the Rangers 3-2, after nearly seeing another 3-0 lead slip away.

“We’ll take three-goal leads every game. We’ll do that every time. That’s fine. Three’s a big hill,” said Wild forward Eric Staal. “For us to be able to come out with that lead and to be able to get that, it’s big. Human nature, I think, is sometimes you sit back and the other team’s got nothing to lose so they’re going for it. You can get on your heels a little bit … (but) when we play with pace, we’re a good team.”

The playoffs were a long shot a month ago for the Wild, but they’ve gone 10-0-3 in their past 13 home games, which is the best run in franchise history, and have one of the top-scoring defensive units in the NHL, both of which are good omens as they scoreboard watch and seek a sixth straight berth in the postseason.

“It’s a critical tim for us. We have this nice home stand. We all are watching the standings very closely, and this is the fun time of year where you’re watching the standings and check the games and all the scores right after you get off the ice,” forward Matt Cullen said. “The playoffs are kind of within view, so we know where we sit. So these are huge games.”

The Capitals make their lone visit to Minnesota after a tough overtime loss in Winnipeg on Tuesday. After he was done fuming about a no-call on what he thought should have been a Jets penalty in the overtime, the Capitals coach focused on the bigger picture and liked what he saw from his team in a hostile place to play.

“We’re all looking at the end, but there was a good process,” Barry Trotz said. “We haven’t played 54 minutes of good hockey for a while, so I’m trying to take the positive out of it.”

One place the Caps see room for improvement is defensively, after a few notable breakdowns in recent games.

“It breaks down to everything really, but in terms of the D zone we’re a little too backed off,” Washington defenseman John Carlson said. “We’re in follow mode instead of attack mode. It’s tough. We’re giving teams a lot of time in the zone and if you do that you try to at least keep teams to the outside and not give them the middle of the ice. We haven’t been doing that and that’s part of the problem.”

The Capitals won the season’s first meeting of these teams 3-1 in November in Washington.