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With four-day break looming, Wild need a win to keep pace

The Wild and Blues have been leapfrogging each other in the Western Conference wild-card race for the past week, with St. Louis sporting a one-point lead before a Saturday afternoon showdown at Xcel Energy Center that'll be the rivals' third matchup this month.

But there's more at stake for the Wild than their battle with the Blues.

This is their last game before a four-day timeout, a lull in which the standings could drastically turn on them.

So, better make this one count.

"We're kind of like that with every game, whether we get a few days in between or not," winger Matt Boldy said. "Obviously, we know it's a big game and gotta get these points."

While the Wild sit idle for their longest layoff left on the schedule after kicking off a six-game homestand, there's a chance they'll fall further behind a playoff spot.

Vegas, which is ahead of the Wild for the final wild-card berth by five points, will be in action three times in that stretch beginning Saturday. One of those games is against St. Louis, to guarantee one of the Wild's competitors will pick up two points.

"We need the rest, the recovery, obviously guys with injury," rookie defenseman Brock Faber said. "But tomorrow needs to be a win."

Those four days off could help the Wild get healthier.

Joel Eriksson Ek practiced Friday after missing the last four games with a lower-body injury, but coach John Hynes was unsure if Eriksson Ek would suit up vs. the Blues. If Eriksson Ek remains sidelined, Hynes anticipated the center possibly returning Thursday against San Jose.

Same for defenseman Jonas Brodin, who was hurt Tuesday at Anaheim.

"It's not something where you're looking at a long-term thing here," Hynes said of Brodin's lower-body injury. "I think he's gotta let some time pass a little bit and get himself going. So, that's good news."

Both players' absences were felt in a 6-0 dusting by the Kings on Wednesday that snapped the Wild's eight-game point streak, the Wild's early hole snowballing on them because of poor game management.

After a turnover led to Los Angeles opening the scoring, the Kings capitalized twice on the power play and had another goal two seconds after a power play expired.

Atoning for that showing and the implications of another Wild-Blues clash are more critical factors to Hynes than the impending four-day pause.

"The most important thing is playing meaningful games, which we're in, and let's pass that test," he said.

All three meetings with St. Louis this season have held that significance, and the Wild have succeeded just once.

They won Hynes' Wild coaching debut on Nov. 28, overtaking the Blues 3-1. Since then, they've stalled 3-1 on March 2 to drop three points behind St. Louis, and then failed to climb four points ahead last Saturday as a 3-2 shootout loss trimmed their buffer to a single point.

"We're all kind of fired up in this room to get another shot at them," Faber said.

These setbacks against the Blues represent a larger issue: the Wild's inability to take advantage of the games that matter most.

Had they defeated Los Angeles, the Wild had the potential to go into this pause only a point back of Vegas.

Now the Wild's best-case scenario is a three-point difference.

How much that deficit grows will help determine if the Wild have make-or-break territory waiting for them on the other side of their break.

"If we were to get that opportunity again," Faber said, "we can't waste it."