Wild a win away from reaching postseason
April, 26, 2013
By Pierre LeBrun | ESPN.com
The Minnesota Wild didn't get any help on the scoreboard Thursday night with both the Detroit Red Wings and Columbus Blue Jackets winning.
So Friday night's game with the Edmonton Oilers does indeed matter, the Wild needing a victory to clinch their first postseason berth since the 2007-08 season.
After lackluster losses to the San Jose Sharks and Calgary Flames threatened Minnesota's playoff standing, the Wild faced basically a must-win game Tuesday night at home against the reigning Cup champs and responded with a huge 2-1 win over the Los Angeles Kings.
"I think that was the best game, if not all year, it was the best game we played in a long time," Wild star winger Zach Parise told ESPN.com Thursday. "So that was kind of refreshing because we've had some tough games. We had a pretty bad game out in San Jose [6-1 loss last Thursday]. And we couldn't win at home for a while. So it was real good to have one that we felt good about."
The never-say-die Blue Jackets beat the Dallas Stars 3-1 on the road Thursday to tie the eighth-place Wild at 53 points, but Minnesota has a game in hand plus the regulation and overtime wins tiebreaker. So, beat the visiting Oilers and the Wild -- a team with so much offseason hype -- will achieve their goal of reaching the postseason.
"Just around town, you can really tell how bad people want us to get into the playoffs and how long they've been waiting for it," Parise said. "Hopefully, we can get ourselves in there and see what happens after that."
Just get in and see what happens. You hear lots of players saying that this time of year, and why not?
Parise saw it first-hand a season ago when the unheralded, sixth-seeded New Jersey Devils got all the way to the Cup finals, only to lose to the eighth-seeded Kings.
Just get in.
"We got a matchup that I thought was favorable for us in the first round [Florida Panthers], and we got better as the playoffs went along," Parise said. "We beat two really good teams after that in Philadelphia and New York.
"And you know, everyone is so obsessed with the home-ice thing," he added. "Last year proves it right. L.A., last year as an eighth seed, started each series on the road and went up 2-0 every time. We also started on the road the first three series, and we did fine, too. So I think more than ever now that home ice isn't as much of an advantage as it used to be."
First, the Wild have to get there. And they might have to do so without trade deadline acquisition Jason Pominville, who took a hit to the head from Kings captain Dustin Brown (which cost the latter a two-game suspension) Tuesday and missed practice Thursday.
Wild GM Chuck Fletcher told ESPN.com via email Thursday that Pominville remained "day to day at this point, upper body."
It's a sizable loss, but if the Wild are fortunate, it won't be prolonged.
"He's played very well for us," Parise said of the former Buffalo Sabres captain. "That line, with [Pierre-Marc] Bouchard and [Kyle] Brodziak, was great for us the last little stretch.
"I don't know Jason's status. I saw him in the locker room [Thursday], and he looked good, but I don't know. Hopefully, he's good to go, because he's a big part of our lineup."
Few players have been a bigger part of Minnesota's lineup than Ryan Suter, who, like Parise, signed a 13-year, $98 million deal last summer to join the Wild as a prized free agent. The star defenseman is a strong Norris Trophy contender, leading the NHL in minutes played while doing it all at both ends of the ice.
"He's been what people expected of him and more," Parise said. "He's played a ton of minutes and plays them well. I feel like the more he plays, the better he plays. And you look at how tough it is for a young defenseman to come into the NHL, just the way Ryan has helped [Jonas] Brodin out this year. To me, Brodin is one of the very best rookies in the NHL. You look at how Ryan has helped out his game; I think he's been unbelievable."
Parise and Suter were brought in for all kinds of reasons, but certainly their experience at crunch time is also valuable for a young team.
"That's a big part of why they wanted to bring Ryan and I in: to share some of that experience that we've had," Parise, who took home Olympic silver with Suter in February 2010 for Team USA, said. "It's hard as a player the first time you play in the playoffs. I know going into New Jersey we had a lot of playoff experience there, and that helped me my first couple of years. So we'll try to help here that way.
"And not just in the playoffs, but just trying to get into the playoffs. Our games lately have been essentially playoff games, too, for us. We got to win them. There's a different atmosphere around the locker room. You try to keep everything in perspective. You lose one game in the playoffs and you think the world is ending. You win the next one and you think you’re winning the Cup."
Win the next one and the Wild are in. That shouldn't be hard to keep in perspective.