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Second-place squads face off when Oilers meet Wild

Sportsnaut
Apr 7, 2022; Los Angeles, California, USA; LA Kings center Adrian Kempe (9) and Edmonton Oilers defenseman Darnell Nurse (25) reach for the puck in the second period at Crypto.com Arena. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports
Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Technically, the Edmonton Oilers are still in the hunt for the top spot in the Pacific Division.

Heading into Tuesday night’s road clash with the Minnesota Wild at St. Paul, Minn., the Oilers (42-25-6, 90 points) sit second in the Pacific Division, seven points behind the Calgary Flames in the chase for top spot. With only nine games remaining, though, it’s a long shot that Edmonton will wrestle away the division title.

More in Edmonton’s control is the hold on the team’s current position, which would mean home-ice advantage in the opening round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

As they prepare to face the Wild (44-21-6, 94 points), the Oilers have a four-point edge on the third-place Los Angeles Kings and a six-point bulge on the hard-charging Vegas Golden Knights.

The first quest for the Oilers is clinching a playoff spot. The second is ensuring that second place in the Pacific remains in their hands.

“Our singular focus is locking in that spot,” defenseman Darnell Nurse said.

The Oilers saw their six-game winning streak — and nine-game home winning streak — snapped in Saturday’s 2-1 shootout loss to the Colorado Avalanche, but they believe their game is where it should be at this moment.

Edmonton fired 50 shots on goal against the league-leading Avalanche and held Colorado to one goal against in a performance that even the sternest of coaches will accept.

“We’ve been playing some good hockey here,” Oilers coach Jay Woodcroft said. “I thought we committed to playing a certain style that is conducive to the hockey that’s going to get played here in the month of May. We’re conditioning ourselves in that type of environment. … I really enjoyed watching our players compete extremely hard for one another.”

The Wild, who own the second spot in the Central Division, are coming off a 6-3 win over the Kings on Sunday, a game in which Los Angeles took a 3-0 lead just over 10 minutes in before Minnesota scored six unanswered goals.

It was no surprise that Kirill Kaprizov led the comeback, when he scored his franchise-record-tying 42nd goal of the season to put his team on the board. When Matt Boldy tallied 50 seconds later, the Wild were off to the races.

“The two quick goals clearly helped,” coach Dean Evason said. “If you get just one and they hang on and get through (the period), then maybe they’ve got a little bit more and we don’t have quite the belief that we did with the two quick ones. That was key.”

The Wild are riding a nine-game point streak (8-0-1) on home ice and have the most wins and points through 71 games in franchise history.

Kaprizov, whose 42 tallies tie him for the franchise mark held by Marian Gaborik and Eric Staal, has 10 goals in the last 10 games.

Even so, Evason made a point about his squad needing to clamp down better defensively. The Kings were just as dangerous through the first two periods but couldn’t bury a fourth goal after goalie Marc-Andre Fleury found his rhythm. The Wild will head into this one knowing they had better limit chances against an Oilers team that boasts two of the league’s top scorers in Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl.

“Every cliche is kind of what wins you hockey games in the second half of the year and going into playoffs,” Wild defenseman Jacob Middleton said.

–Field Level Media