Wild enter All-Star break on hot streak

DENVER, COLORADO - JANUARY 23: Members of the Minnesota Wild celebrate a goal against the Colorado Avalanche in the second period at the Pepsi Center on January 23, 2019 in Denver, Colorado. (Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images)

The NHL All-Star break could not have come at a worse time for the Minnesota Wild.

The week off and the rest are both welcome, but the Wild are entering the week off as one of the hotter teams in the NHL. They beat Colorado 5-2 Wednesday night for their third straight win and fourth in the last five games.

Once hovering near the Wild Card line, the Wild (26-21-3) are now third in the Central Division and sixth in the Western Conference with 55 points. They’re three points clear of the seventh and eighth place teams, Dallas and Colorado, but have work to do to catch the Vegas Golden Knights at 62 points. They’re also nine points behind and Nashville and Winnipeg, who are at 64 points.

The Wild are solidly in playoff contention with 32 games left.

“It means in the overall scheme of things when we come out of the break, we’ll probably be right there in playoff position. It’s a good way to go,” Wild coach Bruce Boudreau said.

The Wild actually trailed twice against the Avalanche before scoring four straight goals to pull away. Eric Staal scored twice, once on the power play, and Ryan Suter scored on a 5-on-3 advantage to give the Wild a three-goal lead in the third period.

Staal had a three-point night and is third on the Wild in scoring with 33 points, behind Mikael Granlund (41) and Zach Parise (44). His 17 goals are second to Parise.

“It’s been having everybody involved and we’ve got balance with this group. It’s been competitive, we know where we’re at and we know it’s a big push the last 30 some odd games,” Staal said. “So try and carry the momentum when we get back, but we’re definitely going to decompress and enjoy the break.”

Newcomer Pontus Aberg appears to have settled in with the Wild. In four games, he’s recorded three assists. He had two in Wednesday’s win and has played four straight games after not seeing the ice for more than a week before being traded from Anaheim.

In addition to winning four of their last five games, the Wild have won six of their past eight on the road.

“It’s a great time that the boys deserve a break, but you wish you could keep playing if you’re going to play like that,” Boudreau said.

One player that won’t be getting much of a break is goaltender Devan Dubnyk. The net-minder is the Wild’s lone representative at the NHL All-Star Game, and it’s his third All-Star appearance.

He made 20 saves on 22 shots Wednesday night and in the last four games, has made 84 saves on 89 shots. He’s won his last four starts with a 1.29 goals against average and a .944 save percentage. He leads NHL goalies with six road wins since Dec. 29, and is 6-1 in his last seven road games. He’s also tied for fifth in the NHL with 20 wins on the season.

The Wild had quite the month of January, tying for second in the NHL with eight wins and tying for fourth with 16 points.

“I think we always talk about the next one that we focus on. But I think it’s very important going into the break with two wins in two tough buildings. The plane ride home is a lot nicer,” captain Mikko Koivu said.

The schedule is jam-packed coming out of the All-Star break with 14 games in 26 days. That includes starting with a back-to-back, where they travel to Dallas before hosting Chicago. They also have a back-to-back at the New York Rangers Jan. 12, and at Detroit the following night.

“It’s going to be difficult. We’ve got a really tough schedule and there’s one point in there we’re playing all the heavy hitters,” Boudreau said. “Seven games in a row either Tampa, San Jose, Washington. There’s a lot of good teams we’re playing in there.”