The Minnesota Wild and New York Islanders could each look different once Friday’s trade deadline arrives.
But on Tuesday night, when the Wild hosts the Islanders, both teams will be concerned solely with continuing their surge into playoff contention.
Each club was off Monday after earning pivotal wins Sunday afternoon. Kirill Kaprizov collected a natural hat trick to lead the host Wild back from a two-goal third-period deficit in a 3-2 overtime win over the Columbus Blue Jackets. Semyon Varlamov stopped all 23 shots he faced as the visiting Islanders cruised to a 4-0 win over the Winnipeg Jets.
Those results helped catapult the Wild — which has won five of six games (5-0-1) — into second place in the Central Division, one point ahead of the Jets and the Colorado Avalanche. The Avalanche can make up ground if they beat the Vegas Golden Knights on Monday.
The Wild are also two points behind the Dallas Stars, who were slated to play the Vancouver Canucks on Monday.
The Wild’s margin for error remains thin, though. Minnesota will enter Tuesday two points ahead of the Seattle Kraken, who occupy the final wild card spot in the Western Conference, and six points ahead of the ninth-place Calgary Flames.
A playoff push could require an offensive upgrade for the Wild, which hasn’t scored more than four goals in a game since Jan. 7, a span in which they have gone 11-8-3. But general manager Bill Guerin acknowledged Minnesota is better positioned now than it was following a six-game stretch immediately after the All-Star break in which it went 1-4-1.
“Coming out of the break, I didn’t know what was going to happen,” Guerin told reporters Sunday. “We just weren’t playing well. You’re sliding down the standings and things were looking pretty bleak.
“Now we find ourselves in a pretty good spot and that’s just in the thick of things.”
Outside of making one big trade already, the Islanders are a mirror image of the Wild. New York almost fell out of the Eastern Conference playoff picture by going 4-7-3 while scoring three goals or fewer in 14 straight games from Jan. 5 through Feb. 6.
But the Islanders, who acquired Bo Horvat from the Canucks on Jan. 30, have gone 5-3-2 since Feb. 7 — a span in which they’ve scored four or more goals five times — to move into the first wild card spot in the East. New York is two points ahead of the second wild card, the Pittsburgh Penguins, and three points clear of the ninth-place Buffalo Sabres.
Yet even with Horvat — who scored his fifth goal with his new team with an unassisted, end-to-end short-handed tally in the first period Sunday — the Islanders’ hold on a playoff spot is tenuous. Their second- and fifth-leading scorers, Mathew Barzal and Jean-Gabriel Pageau, are out indefinitely with lower- and upper-body injuries, respectively.
In addition, New York has played a league-high 63 games — four more than the Penguins and five more than the Sabres.
“You’re going to be scoreboard-watching, for sure,” Islanders center Brock Nelson said Sunday. “But you don’t want to leave it up to that and cheering for different teams. You want to go out there and take care of business.”
–Field Level Media