ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) - Surging into and out of the Olympic break, the Minnesota Wild have created a significant cushion between them and their competitors for the two Western Conference wild-card playoff spots.
That's not enough. With five days before they play next, this was still a game they were worried about - and had to win.
Jared Spurgeon and Zach Parise scored in the third period, and the Wild notched their season-high fifth straight victory, 3-2 over the Calgary Flames on Monday night.
'You don't want to go a week without getting any points the way things are, even if you have a cushion,' Wild coach Mike Yeo said. 'The cushion to me is nothing ... because it's not about where the people are behind you. To me it's much more of a race of what you need to get to.'
The Wild have 75 points, nine ahead of the cut, but they are off until Saturday. Then they will launch their final stretch of 20 games in 37 days.
'I don't think we were at our best. I don't think we played at a level we need to play. But it doesn't matter when you look back at the score,' Parise said.
Kyle Brodziak also scored, rookie Darcy Kuemper stopped 21 shots during his 15th start in a row, and the Wild raised their record at home to 22-7-2 while playing in front of their fans for the first time in 25 days.
Captain Mikko Koivu, back from a 17-game absence due to a broken ankle, skated on the second line with Dany Heatley and Charlie Coyle, apart from Parise for the first time.
Parise gave the Wild some insurance by camping in the crease and deflecting a shot past Reto Berra with 5:16 remaining for his 21st goal. Just 77 seconds later, Mark Giordano scored to bring the Flames back within a goal. But Kuemper hung on to raise his record to 11-3-2.
Kuemper has played so well in place of Josh Harding and Niklas Backstrom that the Wild might not need to trade for a goalie before the deadline.
'The confidence he has now, you can see that, and it's just kind of the edge he's playing with that's good to see,' Koivu said. 'He's playing winning hockey right now, so obviously that's a huge part of the team.'
Mikael Granlund had two assists while playing in the NHL for the first time against his brother Markus Granlund, who was called up from the AHL last week by the Flames.
After a scoreless, sluggish and penalty-free first period, the pace picked up in the middle frame. Matt Cooke swooped in behind the net to poke the puck away from Berra. Brodziak crept toward the crease to corral the puck and knocked it in for the game's first goal.
'If you make a mistake the puck ends up in the net. I feel bad for the team because they played really hard tonight and we had a great chance to win,' Berra said.
Mike Cammalleri, playing perhaps his last game for the Flames with the NHL trade deadline looming on Wednesday, tied it 1-1 in the second period when Koivu's pass ricocheted across the slot to him for an easy tap-in that Kuemper had no chance to stop.
'No moral victories. We know they're playing well, but we'd like to win,' Cammalleri said.
With Coyle screening Berra on a power play, Spurgeon sent a slap shot through traffic for the lead.
'We had to kind of grind that one out. I had a feeling this was going to be a difficult game for us right from the start,' Yeo said.
The Flames, buried in the Western Conference playoff race, could make some moves this week. Cammalleri scored for the first time since Jan. 6. He missed nine games during that stretch because of a concussion.
'Cammi, you always know that he's going to show up to work,' coach Bob Hartley said.
NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman, as a guest of Wild owner Craig Leipold, watched from a suite. Leipold took him earlier in the day to Target Field, where baseball's Twins play, and TCF Bank Stadium, the football home of the University of Minnesota, for tours of possible outdoor game venues. The NHL put on six this season. Bettman has assured the Wild they will be awarded an outdoor game but hasn't committed to a timeframe.
NOTES: Flames RW David Jones hurt his upper body in a collision against the boards. 'It doesn't look very good,' Hartley said. ... Koivu missed 17 games, plus the Olympics for his native Finland, because of a broken ankle. ... Markus Granlund posted his first NHL assist, on Giordano's goal.
The Associated Press News Service
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