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Wild trying to gain ground on Predators in wild-card race

Feb 27, 2024; Saint Paul, Minnesota, USA; Minnesota Wild right wing Ryan Hartman (38) skates with the pucka as Carolina Hurricanes defenseman Brett Pesce (22) defends  during the third period at Xcel Energy Center. Mandatory Credit: Matt Krohn-USA TODAY Sports
Credit: Matt Krohn-USA TODAY Sports

Six points out of the final wild-card spot in the Western Conference with just 23 games left to go, the Minnesota Wild depart on a critical two-game road trip that begins Thursday night against one of teams they’re trying to catch, the Nashville Predators.

The Wild also visit St. Louis, which entered Wednesday’s games tied with Minnesota in the Central Division standings with 62 points. Six teams were within seven points of each other for the two wild-card spots that Los Angeles and Nashville currently hold with 68 points.

Calgary (63), the Blues (62), the Wild (62) and Seattle (61) were still within striking distance heading into the final quarter of the regular season.

The game with Nashville is a key four-point swing game for Minnesota, which could crawl back within four points of a playoff spot with a regulation win. But Wild coach John Hynes bristled when asked if it was the biggest game of the season.

“We said we needed to get 15 points in this 10-game segment and we got 15,” Hynes said after a disappointing 3-2 home loss to Carolina on Tuesday. “We got another 10-game segment coming up.

“I think this time of year you’ve got to be a little bit leery of getting into ‘this is the biggest game of the year.’ It’s an emotional time of the year. … Now we go into Nashville and we have to bring our best effort there. And then after the Nashville game, win or lose, we’re going to St. Louis in the biggest game. They’re all big.”

The schedule gets much softer for Minnesota after the trip with nine games against bottom-feeders San Jose (three times), Anaheim (twice), Arizona (twice), Chicago and Ottawa on the docket.

“I think it’s just steady on the rudder, making sure we’re taking care of our own business,” Hynes said. “This is what down-the-stretch hockey is. You’re playing meaningful games, and all of them count the same.”

Nashville brings in a six-game win streak which ties a season-high. The Predators turned their season around by sweeping a five-game western road trip that included wins at St. Louis, Vegas and Los Angeles and followed that up with a 4-1 home win Tuesday over Ottawa.

The victory over the Senators evened Nashville’s home record at just 15-15-0 and helped bury some of the bad memories of their previous home game on Feb. 15, a 9-2 loss to Dallas.

“It was huge for us,” said defenseman Roman Josi, who had two goals and an assist against the Senators. “We knew coming home we had to play better at home. We haven’t been good at home all year and we need to find some consistency here. … After the last game against Dallas, it was a really good win for us.”

Juuse Saros, the subject of some strong trade talks before the win streak, had 24 saves to win his fourth consecutive start, and Gustav Nyquist added a goal and two assists.

It was the first multi-goal game of the season for Josi and 18th of his career.

“I thought tonight was one of his best games of the year,” Nashville coach Andrew Brunette said. “It was a hard game, after a long trip and flight back, and I thought he found some energy and looked like he was having fun playing and making plays. He’s a fun player to watch.”

Minnesota is just 2-7-3 in its past 12 visits to Nashville but won its last trip there, 6-1, on Nov. 30 as Connor Dewar scored a hat trick. That game snapped the Predators’ other six-game win streak this season.

–Field Level Media

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