MINNEAPOLIS - The Minnesota Wild had just finished one of their best games of the season, and coach Jacques Lemaire was already looking ahead.
"I don't get too excited when we win a game, because we've been up and down," Lemaire said. "I want our team to go on a seven, eight-game winning streak. That would be great. I know that's really hard to do, because of the good teams we're playing."
The Wild beat a good one on Wednesday with a 5-1 win over Anaheim, one of the opponents they've long have the most trouble with. Just 12 days prior, they were whipped at home by the same Ducks 4-2.
This time, they were much sharper.
"It's good for our confidence, definitely," said centre Pierre-Marc Bouchard.
The defence was tight, and the sticks were there every time Anaheim tried to take a shot or make a pass. All of the "skill guys" - meaning Marian Gaborik, Brian Rolston, Mikko Koivu, Pavol Demitra, Bouchard and Eric Belanger - were heavily involved in the attack and all over the score sheet. Goalie Niklas Backstrom won his third straight start.
Those skill guys have expressed frustration with the way Lemaire frequently shuffles his lines, but that wasn't the case against the Ducks.
"Lines were rolling. There wasn't a lot of mix and match. You know when you're going to go on the ice. You know who you're going to play against and who you're going to play with," Belanger said after Thursday's practice at Parade arena in Minneapolis. "It seems our energy level was high. Everybody was playing within the system, and we played really good."
Emerging from the all-star break with a strong, all-around effort was important for this inconsistent team. The Wild are still in first place in the Northwest Division and in line for a playoff spot in the ultra-competitive Western Conference, but they've been unable to sustain momentum since starting the season with 15 out of a possible 16 points in their first eight games.
Minnesota is only three points away from the second-highest total in the conference, but also only five points ahead of the 10th-place team.
"You don't gain any ground. You've got to win to stay there, which is really tough," Belanger said.
That's why Lemaire is so demanding. He knows if the Wild let up they'll suddenly be out of the race. That's why he's not ready to say that they turned a corner by beating Anaheim.
"It's still up in the air," Lemaire said. "We have too many ups and downs. Sometimes I felt that, 'Oh, we'll go on a streak,' and we didn't even show up the following games. ... The ups and downs take a lot of the positives away."
Much of Minnesota's success down the stretch will ride on Backstrom, who hasn't been as good as he was during his rookie season. Against the Ducks, he was as good as ever. Nary a rebound was seen.
"He's starting to do more and more things that he was doing last year," Lemaire said. "It's good to see him like this. He's building confidence."