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Brian Murphy: Wild's metamorphosis from dead team walking to NHL pace car

This is their second four-game winning streak under Hynes, who is pulling all the right levers and milking the adrenaline rush of a regime change for all it’s worth.

Back in the day, the mere sight of the Red Wings clanging all those Stanley Cups like a death knell would leave the perennially undermanned Wild quivering in their skates.

As the curtain falls on 2023, Detroit’s iconic winged wheel is the emotional touchstone that has brought Minnesota full circle during a franchise-quaking month.

It was only Nov. 26 when the Wild slinked out of Motown with their pride tattered and their head coach walking the plank. Victims of a seven-game losing streak that culminated with an ugly 4-1 loss at Little Caesar’s Arena which bottomed them out at 5-10-4.

Dean Evason was fired the next day, John Hynes stepped behind the bench draped in savior’s robes and the resurrection was on for the Wild, whose metamorphosis from dead team walking to NHL pace car has left the faithful with a pleasant case of whiplash.

No team has won more games than the Wild since their Motor City reckoning. They improved to 11-3 under Hynes with Thursday’s raucous 6-3 victory over those same Red Wings at Xcel Energy Center.

Not even old Chicago nemesis Patrick Kane and his hot hands could derail the party train as the Wild blitzed the Wings with three goals in a two-minute span early in the third period.

From Matt Boldy’s opening salvo 38 seconds into the game to Kirill Kaprizov’s dagger with 5:45 remaining, Minnesota boasted 10 players on the scoresheet, led by Marcus Johansson’s two goals and three points.

It was a complete takedown of a reeling opponent as the wounded Wild won again without captain Jared Spurgeon, fellow stud defenseman Jonas Brodin and second-leading scorer, Mats Zuccarello.

“Is it huge to be doing this right now with guys out? Yeah,” said winger Marcus Foligno. “Because when we get those guys back, you’re going to be a better hockey team. But right now, everyone’s playing their parts, winning one-on-one battles, and it’s been nice.”

The Wild needed binoculars and a shrink to spot the playoff race after they returned from Detroit. Following Thursday’s victory, they were within a point of the St. Louis for the second wild card.

This is their second four-game winning streak under Hynes, who is pulling all the right levers and milking the adrenaline rush of a regime change for all it’s worth.

Whereas the November Wild would have wilted after Detroit’s Alex DeBrincat scored a power-play goal 2:43 into the third to tie the game 2-2, Hartman shrugged off the threat and bagged his third goal in as many games after missing the last two with an upper-body injury.

And it was Hartman who sparked Minnesota early in the second period when he keenly recognized two Red Wings forwards guarding the blue line, blazed through their thinly veiled attempt at playing D-men and created a scoring chance and chaos in front of Detroit goalie James Reimer.

Johansson breezed in to wire home the rebound for the only goal of the second period. It was an ideal answer for Kane’s tying goal six minutes into the game, which surely triggered Wild fans traumatized by the superstar’s lethal aggressions with the Blackhawks.

Kane has revived his game with the Red Wings after radical hip surgery threatened to mothball a spectacular career that includes three Stanley Cup championships with the Blackhawks, two of them coming on the postseason backs of the Wild.

Kane, the 2007 first overall pick, has 25 goals among 54 points in 58 career games against Minnesota. In 15 playoff games, he has 13 goals and 20 points, none more devastating than the overtime winner he buried in May 2014 at the X to vanquish the Wild.

A decade later, the Wild are still chasing a sixth game in the second round while Kane, 35, is trying to lead his third franchise to the postseason on Detroit’s top line with DeBrincat and Dylan Larkin.

He has six goals among 11 points in 11 games since signing with Wings.

“Yeah, body feels good,” Kane said. “Larks and Alex are playing at such a high level that, you know, if I could get to that level, we could be one of the more dangerous lines in the league.”

Fortunately, the Wild won’t see Kane and the Eastern Conference Red Wings again in the regular season. They are hunting bigger game.

Two polar-opposite games against Detroit bracketed Minnesota’s lowest point of a fading season and the peak of its latest ascension.

Fourteen games into his tenure, Hynes said he still is learning the combinations on the ice and personalities off it that shape a dressing room that has whole-heartedly bought into his message.

And he insists the Wild haven’t even played their best game yet.

“There's certainly parts of our game that we think can be better and that's the benefit of you're going through this and finding ways to win,” Hynes said. “But there’s so much more potential where we can be better.”

Kirill Kaprizov

Dec 27, 2023; Saint Paul, Minnesota, USA; Detroit Red Wings right wing Daniel Sprong (17) checks Minnesota Wild left wing Kirill Kaprizov (97) in the first period at Xcel Energy Center.