All season long, Wild coach Dean Evason has stressed the importance of living in the moment. He doesn’t let his players look too far down the road. As he likes to put it: What’s the point?
But the 56-year-old Evason did allow the Wild to look ahead after clinching a playoff berth with Saturday’s 6-3 victory over the San Jose Sharks.
“You start the process at the beginning of the year, and the ultimate goal is to win the Stanley Cup,” Evason said. “That’s why we’re all here. There’s steps along the way. This is a good step going forward.”
In that same breath, Evason reverted back to his usual ways, shifting the focus to the Wild’s next game, at home against the St. Louis Blues on Wednesday night.
“We’ll get ready for the next game, play hard, and then go again,” Evason said. “That’s been our mentality from Game 1, and it won’t change now.”
That should help the Wild (31-13-3, 65 points) avoid complacency moving forward. It also could help them chase down a division title with the Vegas Golden Knights (34-11-2, 70 points) and Colorado Avalanche (31-10-4, 66 points) well within reach with nine games to play.
Asked about taking aim at a division title, winger Marcus Foligno didn’t shy from the idea, noting that the Wild play the Golden Knights twice in the coming weeks.
“There’s not one person in our locker room that doesn’t think we can be No. 1 in our division,” Foligno said. “It’s still within reach. That has to be our mindset. We want to be the top dog.”
In other words, the Wild aren’t satisfied with a playoff berth. They want to keep building their game ahead of the playoffs, then take their chances at chasing down a Stanley Cup.
“It’s important for any team that enters the playoffs to be playing at the top of their game,” defenseman Ryan Suter said. “Now is not the time to take the foot off the gas. There are things we need to work on, and we’re going to work on those things. Just trying to be consistent.”
That feeling resonates across the whole team.
“You have to keep building into the playoffs,” goaltender Cam Talbot said. “You’re not going to get a whole lot of time before Game 56 and the first round of the playoffs, so we have to make sure there isn’t a letdown. You have to be ramping it up and playing the best hockey come Game 1.”
That was general manager Bill Guerin’s message to the team this week. He has been a part of his fair share of playoff runs and knows what it takes to compete at a high level when it matters most.
“If we get complacent, we’re just asking for trouble,” he said. “We want to be playing our best hockey going into the playoffs. If we think this is a time to take our foot off the gas pedal and be complacent, and not be diligent in our game, then we’re making a big mistake. I don’t see that happening to this group.”
Think of the next couple of weeks as a chance for the Wild to continue to prove themselves. They believe they are legitimate Stanley Cup contenders, and it seems like the rest of the league is starting to take notice.
“I think we’re slowly getting into that talk amongst fans and other people where the Minnesota Wild is a team that should be No. 1,” Foligno said. “There are great teams in our division, and we’ve had success against them. So that should be the mindset going into those games.”