Wild get healthy and get a win, but playoff chances are still day-to-day

The Wild probably weren't going to forget about the Kings, not after they pasted the Wild 6-0 just last week in their only regulation loss since March 3.

But now the Wild have another reason to keep them top of mind: That's who the Wild are chasing for the last playoff spot in the Western Conference.

Vegas has traded places with Los Angeles, the Golden Knights demoting the Kings to the wild-card race to restart a game of musical chairs that very well could continue because only a point separates Vegas (88) from L.A. (87). They're ahead of St. Louis (82) and the Wild, whose 79 points are eight shy of the Kings and nine behind the Golden Knights.

What this switcheroo won't change is the significance of the Wild facing Vegas Saturday afternoon at Xcel Energy Center.

No matter who the Wild are playing, any opportunity to accrue points is crucial, especially when their opposition could land in that wild-card berth.

"Every game is important, but for sure that one," Jonas Brodin said. "We need to win against those guys because they're in front of us. Yeah, it's going to be a good one.

"It's going to be a playoff game. They're a good team, and it's going to be good."

Although it prevented them from losing any ground in the standings, the Wild's 3-1 win over the last-place Sharks Thursday night wasn't the best endorsement for their competitiveness.

They were tied with San Jose going into the third and after Matt Boldy served up the go-ahead goal just 18 seconds into the period, the Wild clung to that lead.

Not until Ryan Hartman sunk a 165-foot empty-netter in the final minute — after goaltender Filip Gustavsson rattled off 17 saves in the period — were the Sharks no longer a threat, a surprising situation considering San Jose had dropped its previous eight and owns only one win in its past 19.

"We fed them a little bit too much," Joel Eriksson Ek said. "Instead of making hard plays, making them work for it, maybe we gave them a little bit too easy chances."

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Aside from the outcome, the most encouraging sign for the Wild was their personnel.

Eriksson Ek and Brodin returned from injury, giving the Wild back their best center, No. 1 line and top defenseman.

Hurt during a collision with former teammate Nick Bjugstad in the 4-1 victory over Arizona on March 12, Eriksson Ek idled on 29 goals while sitting out five games with a lower-body injury. But once he rejoined the lineup, Eriksson Ek quickly ascended to 30 for the first time in his NHL career after capitalizing in the first period.

His goal was a give-and-go with Kirill Kaprizov, who also assisted on Boldy's game-winner, and the three combined for five points in their reunion.

Among lines who have played at least as many minutes as they have, Eriksson Ek, Kaprizov and Boldy are tops in the NHL in goals for per 60 minutes at 4.73, according to MoneyPuck.

"They're two great players," Eriksson Ek said. "I just try to read off them. When they're on it, they're some of the best in the league. So, it's fun to be a part of playing with them for sure."

On the blue line, Brodin suited up after dodging a lengthy injury from his fall to the ice March 19 at Anaheim.

"I was just more scared than anything else," Brodin recalled. "It was kind of a weird play. I fell kind of weird. But it's nothing serious."

In typical Brodin fashion, the defender logged 20-plus minutes, was on the ice for two Wild goals and none against and helped the penalty kill go 1-for-1.

Still, the Wild were missing a key player in Marcus Foligno, who was sidelined by a lingering groin injury.

Foligno is day-to-day, which is also a fair assessment of the Wild.

They have a long way to go to catch up to the playoff pace, but they can't close the gap all at once.

This is a step-by-step process, and their next move will affect them and their competition.

"To play those games that matter, that's what everyone wants to do," Eriksson Ek said. "For us, just take one game at a time and see where we come out."