It’s been a rollercoaster of a season for the Minnesota Wild. They got off to a fast start, but their midseason slide got so bad that the head coach was let go.
The Wild has won six of its past eight games, two of which were in a shootout. Their victory at Colorado Saturday might have been the one to lock up the No. 8 spot in the Western Conference playoffs. The Wild lead the Avalanche by three points for the final playoff spot. Each team has six games left, with the Wild having the easier schedule.
Assuming they make the playoffs, here are four reasons why the Wild have potential once they get there.
Parise Stepping Up
You need your best players at the top of their game for the postseason, and Zach Parise appears headed there in the final stretch. Parise had a hat trick in a 6-2 win over Calgary and scored twice in Saturday’s 4-0 win over the Avalanche on Saturday. The five goals earned him the NHL’s First Star of the Week award. If the Wild make the playoffs, they’ll need Parise and the team’s other stars at their best to have any chance at advancing.
Dubnyk Playing Better at Right Time
After almost single-handedly getting the Wild to the playoffs last year, Devan Dubynk has been steady, but not spectacular this year. He signed a 6-year contract in the offseason and in 60 games, he has a 31-22-6 record. He’s earned a .920 save percentage along with a 2.31 goals against average to go along with five shutouts. To expect his play from last year to carry over to this season was unrealistic, but he has more than held his own for most of the season. The Wild will need Dubnyk at his best, as does any team with its goalie, in the playoffs.
6 Games Left, 2 Are Against Playoff Teams
The Wild could be getting hot at the right time with five straight wins and six wins in their past eight games. They have six games left, including Tuesday night at Xcel Energy Center against the Blackhawks. The only lock for a playoff team in that stretch besides the Blackhawks is the San Jose Sharks. Colorado’s remaining games are all against playoff teams and contenders in the St. Louis Blues (twice), the Capitals, Predators, Stars and Ducks. It would take a historic collapse by the Wild and rebound by Colorado for Minnesota to miss the playoffs, but stranger things have happened.
Torchetti Has Players Confident
The Wild parted ways with Mike Yeo after a 4-2 loss to the Boston Bruins on Feb. 13. The Wild responded with four straight wins under interim coach John Torchetti by a combined score of 21-8. Since Torchetti took over, the Wild are 14-6-1. While it’s unfortunate that somebody had to lose their job with the team on a slide, sometimes all it takes is a fresh face and a new outlook to give a team a boost. Many players have been outspoken about how much they like playing for Torchetti given his more emotional and free-wheeling style. Getting the Wild to the playoffs and making a run could help him state his case for sticking with the Wild past this interim stretch.
So while the Wild will most likely make the Western Conference playoffs, that’s simply not good enough in the “State of Hockey.” What good does it do to get there, and then get eliminated after the first round? Many Wild fans won’t be excited until the team can advance to the Western Conference Finals and have a legitimate shot at a Stanly Cup title. How realistic is that with an interim coach? Hopefully we’ll find out in about two weeks.