The Wild are looking very much like a contender these days.

After 29 games, they are in first place in the Northwest Division and third in the NHL West with 34 points; their .607 winning percentage is tied for sixth among 30 teams, and they are 12-5-1 since Feb. 7.

Heady numbers for a team that has not reached the NHL playoffs in four seasons.

The Wild's 3-1 victory over the Canucks on Monday night, March 18, was their first in Vancouver in more than four years. But the road doesn't get easier for Minnesota, which plays the Red Wings on Wednesday night, plays host to the San Jose Sharks on Saturday and then travels to Dallas, where the Wild have not won since March 21, 2003.

Nevertheless, there is optimism up and down the roster, and for good reason. The lineup has solidified, the goaltending has been good and the team's collective attitude has been on a crescendo.

It all reflects application of the elements coach Mike Yeo preaches: win faceoffs, forecheck hard, clear the puck away from in front of the goaltender, win puck battles.

The Wild won 68 percent of the faceoffs against the Canucks on Monday, but there are no statistics to show that five skaters continually kept goalie Niklas Backstrom from needing to make more than one save per attack, and there are no numbers to verify that the Wild often held the blue line.

Nevertheless, forechecking has become one of the Wild's strengths.