Tuesday, April 16, 2013
Need to know: Wild control postseason destiny
By Scott Burnside
A year ago, the Minnesota Wild were just beginning an unwanted offseason wondering where and how it all went wrong. The Wild had been in first-place overall in December 2011 and there was rampant excitement at the prospect of a playoff appearance after three straight years of being frozen out. But the Wild collapsed in mighty fashion in the second half, finishing 12th in the Western Conference.
Fast forward to the present, and you could hardly blame coach Mike Yeo, GM Chuck Fletcher and the rest of the Wild for getting a little sense of deja vu all over again as they somehow managed to turn a dogfight with Vancouver at the top of the Northwest Division into a stretch in which they lost six of seven games and fell toward the bottom end of the congested Western Conference playoff bracket. The Wild, historically an offensively challenged team, were shut out three times during that seven-game stretch.
All of which pointed to Monday’s game against the Calgary Flames in Calgary as a pivotal moment in the Wild’s season. Yes, the Flames stink. But for a team trying to arrest a slide, this was the kind of game that could have put a stake in their collective hearts. In the end, it might not have been pretty, but the Wild managed to sneak out of Calgary with two points thanks to a 4-3 victory (the Flames scored twice in the third to make the game close). The win marked the return to the Minnesota lineup of versatile veteran forward Matt Cullen, who had an assist after being sidelined April 1 with a lower-body injury. The win also saw deadline acquisition Jason Pominville score twice, giving the former Sabres captain eight points since being traded on April 3. Captain Mikko Koivu also scored his first goal in 10 games.
In short, it was the kind of balanced effort that had marked the Wild's earlier stretches of winning hockey. With six games left in the regular season, the Wild are in sixth place in the conference, just two points clear of ninth. But they play Calgary once more, struggling Edmonton twice and last-place Colorado as well. Having ended one losing streak Monday, the Wild have no excuses for not ending another streak, a four-year playoff absence, in the next 10 days.