Wild, Blue Jackets on upcoming showdown: No big deal. Yeah, right.
ST. PAUL -- The cliches poured out of both locker rooms -- home and away -- on Friday afternoon at Xcel Energy Center. It started to look like a contest of who could act like they care less about the epic New Year's Eve showdown between the NHL's...
ST. PAUL - The cliches poured out of both locker rooms - home and away - on Friday afternoon at Xcel Energy Center. It started to look like a contest of who could act like they care less about the epic New Year's Eve showdown between the NHL's hottest teams, the Minnesota Wild and Columbus Blue Jackets.
"It's the same as every other game," was a common response from both Wild and Blue Jackets players.
Except it's not. There has never been a match-up like this in the history of the four major sports, not with the Wild unbeaten since Dec. 2 and the Blue Jackets undefeated since Nov. 26.
In fact, when the Wild - riding a 12-game winning streak - and the Blue Jackets - on a 14-game winning streak - meet at 5 p.m. Saturday at the X, it will mark the first time in the history of the four major sports that both teams are on an active win streak of at least 12 games, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.
The teams' seasons have run almost parallel to each other.
Columbus is 25-5-4 with 54 points in 34 games, leading the Metropolitan division by one point over Pittsburgh. Minnesota is 23-8-4 with 50 points in 35 games, trailing Chicago by one point in the Central division. The Blue Jackets have scored 119 goals, the Wild 111. Columbus has allowed 71 goals, Minnesota 72.
The fact that the game features a pair of up-to-now middle-of-the-pack teams, both founded via the 2000 NHL Expansion Draft, against each other, makes this even more intriguing. You can be sure that when the schedules came out, not many (any?) expected this to be such a marquee match-up.
"I feel like at the beginning of the season nobody thought Minnesota and Columbus was going to be that exciting of a game," Wild left winger Nino Niederreiter said. "It should be a lot of fun."
There is no doubt that St. Paul will be lit on New Year's Eve in anticipation.
You can't find a ticket on StubHub for under $170, and according to ESPN's John Buccigross, this game might go down as the most in-demand, regular-season game in Wild franchise history.
Still, the players insist the hype isn't getting to them.
"We've addressed it in the locker room enough," Wild center Erik Haula said. "It isn't the playoffs yet." Blue Jackets captain Nick Foligno agreed.
"It's fickle in this league," he said. "You start getting caught up in what these streaks mean and it hurts more than it helps. ... We cannot afford to look at anything other than the opponent we're playing."
That said, a few players eventually took the bait when asked about the circumstance these teams find themselves in.
"You can't not think about it," Wild right winger Charlie Coyle said. "It's cool to be a part of right now. To make some history is pretty cool."
"It's two teams playing great right now," Wild center Eric Staal added. "I think it should be talked about. I think it's great."
Staal admitted he's been keeping track of the Blue Jackets from afar, surely hoping both winning streaks would be intact come New Year's Eve.
Wild coach Bruce Boudreau, at least on the surface, seemed to spend most of Friday making sure his players don't think about it too much.
"It's Game 36," Boudreau said. "It's not the Stanley Cup. ... It's got a good little storyline. That's the only thing it is."
Blue Jackets coach John Tortorella, on the other hand, seemed to embrace the circumstances a little more than his counterpart.
"I want our guys to revel in it," he said. "It's a good game to be involved in. I'm glad we have the opportunity. ... It's fun to be a part of something like this in January when we still have the dog days ahead of us here as far as the National Hockey League season."
In the end, the season will continue for both teams regardless of what happens on the final day of 2016. Nonetheless, only one team will enter 2017 with its winning streak still intact.
"They're feeling good about themselves. We're feeling good about ourselves," Tortorella said. "Let's play."