If the NHL season ended today, the New York Islanders would be in prime playoff spot and the Minnesota Wild out of contention. But they way the two teams have played lately, no one would guess that.
Now, the Wild will look to continue surging on Sunday night when they host the reeling Islanders in Saint Paul, Minn.
Both teams returned from the holiday break on Friday. The Wild scored the final three goals of the third period to come back to defeat the host Colorado Avalanche, 6-4, while the visiting Islanders fell for the third straight time in a 5-2 loss to the Chicago Blackhawks.
The win was the third in four games for the Wild and improved their record to 13-4-4 in their past 21 contests. Minnesota was tied for last place in the NHL in points through Nov. 13.
But the victory over the Avalanche continued a trend for the Wild, who have become comfortable climbing uphill and have overcome a deficit in eight of their past 13 wins.
“When you believe you can come back, you have to have that belief before you can do it,” Minnesota head coach Bruce Boudreau said. “I don’t think we had it at the beginning of the year, but I do think the guys never think they’re out of it at this stage.”
Still, the Islanders are in a sturdier playoff position than the Wild despite being in the midst of some mediocre play.
The Islanders are 7-7-1 since a franchise-record 17-game point streak ended Nov. 25.
In what must be most alarming for head coach Barry Trotz, a usually reliable defense has been lacking over the last five games. New York is 1-3-1 in that stretch while allowing 23 non-shootout goals.
“You get as much out as you put in and we haven’t put enough in lately in terms of our structure, commitment and even accountability to each other,” Trotz said. “We have a little cheat in our game. We’re playing full and it’s hard to be hungry when you’re full.”
A pair of goalies who have begun earning more playing time are likely to oppose each other Sunday night.
Semyon Varlamov, who relieved Thomas Greiss after the latter gave up three goals in fewer than 12 minutes on Friday, is in line to start after stopping 17 of 19 shots against the Blackhawks. Varlamov hasn’t started since Dec. 21, when he accepted the defeat in a 6-5 shootout loss to the Anaheim Ducks.
The start was the second in a row for Varlamov and made him the first New York goalie this season to begin back-to-back games.
Devan Dubnyk started for the Wild for the third time in four games Friday, when he recored 40 saves. Minnesota has won all three of those Dubnyk starts.
Wild captain Mikko Koivu, who hasn’t played since Dec. 3 due to a lower-body injury, practiced Saturday. Boudreau said he didn’t think Koivu would return Sunday, but he also didn’t rule it out.
–Field Level Media