For red-hot Wild, ice-cold Winter Classic was a turning point
Minnesota bounced back with a gutsy win over the Boston Bruins, a shootout win over the Washington Capitals and a blowout win over the Anaheim Ducks.
ST. PAUL -- On the heels of arguably their worst loss of the season — the Wild fell 6-4 to the St. Louis Blues at the Winter Classic in a game that wasn’t even that close — veteran winger Mats Zuccarello held everyone accountable postgame.
Not only was he embarrassed by the performance put forth by the Wild with nearly 40,000 fans struggling to stay warm in the stands at Target Field, he was well aware the upcoming stretch had a chance to make or break this season.
Now, a couple of weeks later, Zuccarello is proud of the way the Wild responded in the face of adversity. Though they are still heavily depleted due to injuries, the Wild have won three straight heading into a marquee matchup with the rival Colorado Avalanche on Monday afternoon in Denver.
Was the Winter Classic a turning point?
“Yeah,” Zuccarello said. “Everyone was pissed off.”
Ask anyone on the Wild roster and they would agree with that succinct statement.
“I think after that, I think that’s a good assessment,” coach Dean Evason said. “It was a big stage. The guys knew that we didn’t do what we do to have success, regardless of what the venue was or the weather was. We didn’t do what we do to have success. For the most part, we’ve got back to it.”
As alternate captain Marcus Foligno put it, that loss at the Winter Classic could’ve sent the Wild spiraling down the standings. Instead, they bounced back with a gutsy win over the Boston Bruins, a shootout win over the Washington Capitals and a blowout win over the Anaheim Ducks.
“Here we are now three wins later,” Foligno said. “That’s just the character in this group. Yeah. It was a turning point.”
The fact the Wild managed to snag three wins in the past week and a half will go a long way in their playoff push. It helped them keep their head above water with guys like captain Jared Spurgeon, top center Joel Eriksson Ek, star defenseman Jonas Brodin and No. 1 goaltender Cam Talbot on the shelf.
“We lose those three games and we’re behind a lot more,” Foligno said. “Maybe when we’re approaching the playoffs, trying to get in, we look back at these three games. That’s six points right there that might separate us from the next team.
“There’s always those little gaps in the season where we can look back and say, ‘Well this made us or this broke us.’ We definitely want to be looking back at this come playoff time saying we did the right thing and we came together at the right time.”
As for the game against the Avalanche, the Wild know that will serve as a good measuring stick. It’s been that way for the past few seasons.
“We have to be intense and ready to go,” Foligno said. “They are probably the hottest team in the league right now. They just have that core that’s been with each other a while now and always seems to produce. No different. We just have to come up with more intensity and play them hard and make it feel like a playoff game. We want to go in there and take two points.”
That won’t be an easy task considering the Avalanche boast an 8-1-1 record in the past 10 games. They are firing on all cylinders with the top line of Nathan MacKinnon centering Gabriel Landeskog and Mikko Rantanen.
“It’s about minimizing those waves of attack that they produce,” Foligno said. “Just have to play those guys mean and be hard on sticks and block shots and things like that and make it hard on them generating speed through the neutral zone.”
If the Wild can do that, they might have a chance. If not, the Avalanche might run them out of the building.
“Just a quality hockey club with quality hockey players,” Evason said. “They have a lot of different elements to their game. Obviously they have special people in their lineup that we all know and their system is real good. They compete their butts off. They do a lot of right things. It’s going to be a good challenge for us.”