ST. PAUL , Minn. -- Seems the sky's the limit these days for the Minnesota Wild.
Even head coach Jacques Lemaire believes it's worth pointing out to his team.
At practice Monday, in anticipation of tonight's clash with the Calgary Flames, Lemaire gathered the troops at the Xcel Energy Center. Amidst the discussion, he gestured to the rafters.
He wouldn't divulge what the conversation was about, but his players did: Where he'd love to see an NHL Northwest Division regular-season championship banner hanging.
Beat the Calgary Flames tonight, and it's a done deal.
"It's been in our head," said defenceman Nick Schultz. "It's a huge accomplishment in the division that we play in, probably one of the toughest when you see how close all the teams are. It'd be a big accomplishment, and that's what our main goal is.
"I think it would be very special, be nice for the coaches, the players, the fans."
The Wild, who finished one point out of first place in the Northwest last year, need two points the final two games to ensure that title and the third seed in the Western Conference playoffs.
In the immediate future, the Flames stand in the way.
Make that Jarome Iginla and the Flames stand in the way.
No player has individually impacted the Wild's fate through the years like Iginla. The running gag among Minnesota media is every game between the Wild and Flames begins 1-0 because Iginla scores every time they meet.
Actually, in the seven clashes this season, Iginla has six goals -- including the natural hat trick in the last meeting -- and four assists.
But seeing as he's the all-time leader against the Wild in goals (27) and points (46) in his 42 games, it's easy to understand why folks in Minnesota, including Wild players and brass, feel that way.
"Thank you for reminding me," Lemaire said when Iginla's success was broached. "We can't allow him (to do that). He can do a lot of things. He's good for that team. He's always been a great leader.
"We have to stop him from scoring."
Lost in the Flames' gut-wrenching battle for a playoff spot is the fact Iginla remains searching for his 50th goal of the season, blanked in three straight games.
"Three games? Yeah, big slump for him," snorted Wild forward Brian Rolston. "He's really good against this team. He's really good, probably, against a lot of teams. He's almost got 50 goals for a reason. It's one of those things -- he has our number, and we've got to find a way to stop him because he's been our Achilles heel."
Lemaire, who happens to be searching for the 500th win of his head coaching career, also didn't take any consolation that Iginla is struggling.
"He doesn't want to score against the other teams -- he's waiting for us," he said with a laugh.
For his part, Iginla had no answers for his success -- especially since the Wild have been such a strong team defensively since joining the league -- but wouldn't mind seeing his trend continue. He'd like to score for both his milestone and his team's chances of grabbing the title the Wild are close to earning.
"You try to draw on positive past things. You want to feel good before a game and think of positives and build on that," Iginla said. "Every time we play them, you prepare for a tough game to get chances. They are disciplined, so I can't tell you why I've had success, but I'll prepare the same way."
That said, should the Wild find a way to contain Calgary's captain, it would help them reach their goal of a banner night.
"It'll give you a great idea of the playoffs," Lemaire said of tonight's tilt.
IGGY VS. THE WILD BUNCH
Pts vs. Min. (GP) G+A=Pts
Iginla (42) 27+19=46
Sakic (40) 15+21=36
Tanguay (41) 12+24=36
Pts vs. Min. (GP) G
Iginla (42) 27
Naslund (42) 15
Sakic (40) 15
Goals in Minn. (GP) G
Iginla (21) 12
Naslund (21) 11
Sakic (22) 10
IGINLA VS. WILD
- In last 8 games, he has: three 3-pt. games vs. Wild, and 13 pts., including 9 goals.
- Flames 17-2-1 vs. Wild when Iginla scores.
- Flames 20-4-4 vs. Wild when Iginla has a point. - He has 2 or more points in 9 of 21 games at Xcel, including 3 or more in 3 of last 7
- Has 7 GWG overall, 4 at Xcel