ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — The Minnesota Wild were reeling as last year ended. Star Zach Parise was on injured reserve. Coach Mike Yeo's job was in jeopardy.
Then the problems really piled up. Starting goalie Josh Harding was out of action again with an illness. Captain Mikko Koivu broke his ankle. Defenseman Jared Spurgeon got hurt, too.
Somehow, the Wild survived -- and thrived.
"Ah, it was a piece of cake," Yeo said last week, smiling wryly. "I slept like a baby."
With an 11-4-2 record in 17 games since the calendar turned to 2014, the Wild have taken control of the first of two wild-card spots in the Western Conference playoff race. With 69 points, they're ahead of Phoenix and Dallas, who have 64 apiece and have played one fewer game.
Eight of those 11 wins were in regulation.
"All I wanted to do is I wanted our players to look at me and say, 'OK, he's got confidence. OK, well, we should have confidence,'" Yeo said. "That was the one thing that I wanted. And I did believe in the group that we had still. And I did believe in the game that we played."
The Wild still have had trouble scoring, ranking 25th in the NHL with 2.36 goals per game. With Harding's return unknown and Niklas Backstrom injured and ineffective at different times this season, Darcy Kuemper has taken over in the net. Relying on a rookie goalie can be a risk.
But Parise is back in form from his broken foot. Spurgeon has returned. Koivu is skipping the Olympics and expected at full strength when the schedule resumes on Feb. 27. Nino Niederreiter, acquired in a draft-day trade, has given the offense a boost. Mikael Granlund has bounced back from a rough rookie year.
"I think we've got good character," leading scorer Jason Pominville said. "A lot of guys stepped up in different situations. It wasn't easy at times. You could tell that we were missing some of our key guys, but I think other guys kind of found a way to adjust their game and get adjusted to the level of our play that you have to be successful night in and night out."
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