Hockey fans, get ready for what should be an incredible push to the finish line of the NHL season.
The Minnesota Wild is about to enter a stretch of the season that will feel like a marathon while being played out like a sprint. How do 23 games in 47 days sound? It's busy in NHL terms, but not nearly as busy as it's going to be when they're playing the final 20 games of the regular season over the course of 37 days.
It's a 6 1/2 week grind that will make or break them.
The Wild have been off for the Olympic break since Feb. 6, but head coach Mike Yeo has been pushing them hard in practice this week so they're ready for back-to-back games beginning Thursday at Edmonton and Vancouver.
“I don’t think we can wait until Thursday night to flip a switch, then all the sudden have the urgency that we need,” Yeo told the Star Tribune. “We have to practice that way, we have to compete and battle in practice and make sure that we’re doing things the way that we need to do them.”
In the same Star Tribune article, Wild beat writer Michael Russo listed four keys the Wild need for the stretch run.
- Darcy Kuemper must be the man in goal
- The Wild must win on the road
- No Olympic hangover
- Health is paramount
Staying healthy has been a major factor so far this season. Top scorers Zach Parise, Mikko Koivu, Mikael Granlund and Charlie Coyle have all missed time with injuries. Koivu hasn't played since breaking his ankle Feb. 4, but he's on the mend and there's a chance he could return to action on Thursday.
Kuemper was the man in goal before the Olympic break. Since January, the Wild has gone 8-3-2 in games started by Kuemper. Meanwhile, Josh Harding remains out with an illness and Niklas Backstrom is still limited with abdominal soreness, so the Wild will likely once again rely heavily on the 23-year-old Kuemper.