Fool fans once, shame on the Wild. Fool fans twice, shame on the fans.
Figuring out which side of the streaking Wild is the real one has been a challenge this season. They'll be Jekyll for a week and then turn into Hyde for a month before getting becoming Jekyll again.
The season began with an ugly five games followed by a strong climb up the standings for 18 games, then a fall for six weeks as they went 3-9-1 as the worst team in the NHL from Nov. 24 to Dec. 27.
Now they're climbing again with five wins in the last seven games, including a win over the Winnipeg Jets on Thursday night, which was a blueprint for everything the Wild needs to keep winning.
- Take an early lead
- Strong goaltending
- Smart defense
- Scoring from Jason Zucker
- Excellent penalty kill
- Efficient power play
"I think going forward we gotta find ways to come out like that against every team," said Wild forward Jordan Greenway, whose goal 5:40 into the first period gave the Wild a much-needed early lead. "If we do that we'll do a lot of good things."
Winnipeg owns the No. 2 power play in the NHL and was held scoreless on four man-advantages against the Wild's third-ranked penalty kill. Flip it, and the Wild's 10th-ranked power play scored on one of its two chances, which were hard to come by during their six-week downswing in November and December.
Zucker, who was rewarded with a new contract after scoring a career-high 33 goals last season, scored twice Thursday night. His first was on the power play on an incredible pass from Mikko Koivu that he tipped past Connor Hellebuyck. It was his first goal in more than two weeks and just his 11th this season.
Head coach Bruce Boudreau made it a point to have Zucker, whose second goal (12th of the season) came on a breakaway, told Zucker before the game to get in front more often.
"That's where he got a lot of goals last year, was tips the same way as Zach (Parise) gets goals," said Boudreau. "He has good hand-eye coordination. Instead of him handling the puck, trying to make plays, do what he does – get to the blue paint and try to score some goals."
On the defensive end, Devan Dubnyk was happy to see the puck, indicating that Wild defenders have been blocking his visibility in recent weeks.
"It helps when the guys are boxing out and letting me see pucks. It allows me to hold onto them," Dubnyk said. "If you're not seeing them or guys are getting in front of you it's not as easy to hang on. I thought the guys did a really good job from everywhere to let me see pucks and hang onto them."
We'll probably see the Hyde version of the Wild again, but they can definitely take the blueprint they created against Winnipeg to cut down on the anxiety that comes with the jam-packed Western Conference playoff race.
"It's up to us to keep it going. We had such a bad six weeks that it can never be something you get satisfied with," Boudreau said. "There's so many teams involved in a playoff race, it's not just two or three. It's every night. There's eight teams in the Western Conference that are involved for those spots, so you can't let up at all. It's going to be like this rest of the year."
Entering play Friday, the Wild have 47 points and are eighth (second wild card) in the West.