Ducks close in on Wild ahead of Saturday matchup
SAINT PAUL, Minn. -- What a difference two games can make. That's the lesson learned by the Minnesota Wild and Anaheim Ducks this week.
Earlier in the week, Minnesota seemingly was cruising toward the playoffs and Anaheim was in trouble. But after Thursday night's games, the two teams will face each other on Saturday afternoon with one point separating them in the hunt for the postseason.
The Wild had been riding the wave of a franchise-record home points streak until hitting a wall named the Washington Capitals on Thursday.
At the same time, the Ducks were winning on the road in Chicago, and have suddenly nearly pulled even with the Wild in the fight for the wild-card spot in the Western Conference.
In Minnesota, the loss to Washington created some previously unconsidered concern, as the Capitals scored more than once on goalie Devan Dubnyk with shots that some considered soft, and the mainstay in net was called out by his coach after the loss.
"For a guy that's played so great recently, it could be arguably said that those were four soft goals tonight," coach Bruce Boudreau said after the Wild lost a regulation game at home for the first time in 2018.
On Friday, Dubnyk admitted to an off night but made it clear that he's always his own toughest critic and the perceived off night was a one-time thing.
"We know how we need to play," he said. "If we look at a couple things and get back to the way we've been playing, that's all we need to do."
The Ducks had lost three in a row before beating the reeling Blackhawks 3-2 on Thursday, with Adam Henrique netting his sixth game-winning goal since coming over in a trade with New Jersey on Nov. 30 and making it clear that they consider themselves solidly in the race for a return to the playoffs.
"He's come in and fit into our hockey club in a pretty seamless manner," Ducks coach Randy Carlyle said, crediting Henrique for being willing to accept any role they can find for him. "Specifically, we were down bodies and he was a guy that came in and played a number one role.
"When we got one body back, we moved him into a two role and when we got another guy back at center we moved him into the three hole, and he's continued to make a contribution not only on the offensive side but on the defensive side too."
Between the pipes, Ducks goalie John Gibson said the desperation of the Ducks, and their opponents, is becoming more obvious as each point becomes more and more valuable.
"It's at the point where everybody's scrambling and you're trying to get whatever you can," Gibson said. "We've had a little bit of trouble in the past keeping leads and holding leads, so we definitely put a lot of pressure on ourselves to make sure we're playing the right way and holding leads."
It's the second meeting of the season between the Ducks and Wild. Minnesota won 3-2 in overtime in Anaheim earlier in the year.
Updated February 16, 2018