It marks the final meeting of the regular season between the former Northwest Division rivals. Minnesota won each of the first two matchups, including a 2-1 overtime win in Edmonton on Dec. 4. Five days later, the Wild won 3-2 in St. Paul in a shootout.
The Wild carries a seven-game winning streak in Edmonton into the game on Tuesday. It hasn’t lost there since Dec. 22, 2011 and is 12-1-0 in northern Alberta dating back to Oct. 21, 2010.
“We’ll just go there, we’ll work hard and hopefully [Connor] McDavid didn’t make it back to Edmonton through the airport and we’ll get a break,” joked Wild coach Bruce Boudreau. “We’re just gonna try. That’s all we do.”
Minnesota entered the All-Star break as one of the hottest teams in the NHL, winning four of its final five games before the layoff and opening up a four-point lead on the Chicago Blackhawks in the Central Division with three games in hand. Its 69 points through 48 games is a franchise record .
The game marks the beginning of a four-game, nine-day road trip through Canada, beginning with games against Edmonton (Tuesday) and Calgary (Wednesday). The trip continues Saturday in Vancouver before concluding Feb. 7 in Winnipeg.
With back-to-back games to start the trip, Boudreau decided to give goaltender Darcy Kuemper the start against the Oilers, allowing All-Star Devan Dubnyk an extra day of rest. Kuemper has battled inconsistency this season, but has played better of late and said he’s feeling good after the break.
“[It’s the] same as any other game. You just gotta be ready,” Kuemper said. “I felt good today in practice, so I’ll carry that momentum into tomorrow.”
The extended trip through Canada is the second of the season, as Minnesota went 2-1-1 on its earlier 10-day slog that concluded in Toronto instead of Winnipeg.
It was that road trip, shortly after Thanksgiving, that launched the Wild’s red-hot month of December. The shootout win in Edmonton was the first of 12 consecutive victories, a stretch that ended on New Year’s Eve. Since a shootout loss in Calgary on Dec. 2, the Wild has posted a 21-3-2 record and has outscored opponents 98-62 during that stretch.
Edmonton also entered the break red hot, winners of seven of its final eight games before the layoff, including a 7-3 win over the Flames in Calgary on Friday.
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After three days off, it was no surprise that Boudreau led the team through a skating-heavy session on Tuesday that targeted the power play, breakouts and more. A quick round of herbies had much of the Wild catching its breath by the end of practice.
“The first couple minutes are always a little weird, but as soon as you get warmed up and get the feeling, it’s fine,” Koivu said. “As soon as you get the first one out of the way, the second day is a lot easier already.”
The full practice — excluding Dubnyk and Suter, who were granted the day off — will be one just a handful the Wild are able to hold in February in the midst of a heavy game schedule.
Following two days off between games against Calgary and Vancouver, and then between Vancouver and Winnipeg, Minnesota will embark on an eight-game homestand, a stretch that includes four games in seven days between Feb. 12 and Feb. 18.
Boudreau said the break came at a good time for wholesale China jerseys of his club, but so will the next one.
“We’re gonna say the same thing the next time we get a break, too, because then we play 20 in 33. It’s a really compressed schedule, it’s tough for everybody,” Boudreau said. “Managing rest and work is going to be a really difficult thing. I think this month… we’ve got maybe three practices with cheap NHL jerseys, so we’ve gotta make the best out of them.”
The Wild will spend the next eight days on the road on its second swing through Canada this season, facing Edmonton, Calgary, Vancouver and Winnipeg.
At the beginning of the first trip, Minnesota had compiled a record of 11-7-3 during its 2016-17 campaign. After losing in regulation to the Canucks on Nov. 29 and in a shootout against the Flames on Dec. 2, Minnesota didn’t lose again until Dec. 31.
The trip was something of a turning point for the Wild, which hasn’t suffered back-to-back losses either in regulation or extra time since falling to the Canucks and Flames, gathering a record of 21-3-1 in that frame.
“It makes everybody think they’re coming to the rink and can contribute,” Boudreau said of his team’s winning ways. “It’s not like, ‘Oh, this guy’s gonna do it, he’s our superstar.’ Everybody comes to the rink and, rightfully so, thinks that they’re a very important part of this team.
“We’re a 20-man, 21-man team probably as much as any team in the League.”
Minnesota hopes this upcoming trip will help it keep the good times rolling.
“It gave the team the chance to really bond and get together and spend a lot of days together on the road,” Kuemper said of the first time around. “I think the guys are really looking forward to this trip.”