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Wild enters historic season with nonstop playoff intensity

Sarah McLellan, Star Tribune on

Published in Hockey

Boom or bust, this season will be historic for the Wild.

The NHL has never had teams compete solely within their division until now, a specialized setup for 2021 that simplifies the road to the playoffs without easing up on the pressure. And the Wild should sense that urgency as soon as it debuts in the West Division on Thursday against Los Angeles.

"That's the exciting part for the league is that there is going to be some intensity right from the drop of the puck," coach Dean Evason said. "There can be some lulls throughout the season. [But] such that it's a sprint and it's against familiar teams and teams that you have to make ground against in order to give ourselves a chance to be in the playoffs at the end, I think the intensity level will be extremely high because of that."

Aside from feeling like the postseason, the 56-game schedule will look like it.

Teams are playing each other at least twice in a row and sometimes up to four straight games. That'll undoubtedly rekindle rivalries with longtime foes like Colorado and St. Louis that normally compete alongside the Wild in the Central Division, but it should also build new ones. The other teams in the West are Anaheim, Arizona, Los Angeles, San Jose and Vegas – clubs that are usually based in the Pacific.

"Historically they've been good teams in that division with the California teams," winger Zach Parise said. "I think all of them kind of had an off year last year, but we're expecting it to be a tough division. All the games are tough. But I don't mind the new scheduling as far as playing the same team back-to-back. While you're in that city might as well play them twice. I don't mind that one bit.

 

"I think it'll be a little unique not seeing all the teams in the league, not playing in all the buildings in the league. But we're doing the best we can with what we've got. It'll be a challenge. Really good teams in the division, so it's going to be tough."

Only the top four finishers will advance to the playoffs, and the margin of error will be minuscule.

Without a reprieve to take on teams in other divisions and conferences like there typically is, gone are the games where a club could miss out on points and not take a hit in the standings.

Now, someone will always be moving up at the expense of someone else falling behind – making every contest essentially a four-point battle.

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