The Minnesota Wild ended a three game losing streak last night with a beautiful 3-0 shutout of the Blue Jackets in Columbus, a building very few teams have won in this season. Special teams were great, both Ryan Suter and Charlie Coyle accounted for two goals on the Wild’s three power play chances and Minnesota’s penalty kill was a flawless 4-for-4. Jason Pominville sealed the win with less than two minutes to go in the game, finishing off a beautiful feed by Zach Parise to score his first goal and second point in a Wild sweater.
What’s more, the first ever draft pick in Minnesota Wild history—Marian Gaborik—was held off the score sheet in his home debut as a Blue Jacket. To make things a little sweeter, Mikael Granlund, the highest touted Wild prospect since Gabby, played a huge role in Coyle’s goal to record his first point in the first ever Gaborik vs. Granlund showdown—Granlund 1, Gaborik 0. It’s rather inconsequential, but still fun to think about. One thing is for sure, many Wild fans would pay big money to know what Gaborik was thinking playing a Wild team vastly different from the one he’s familiar with.
With the win last night, Minnesota bumped themselves back up into the top six teams in the Western Conference and six points ahead of 9th place Phoenix. Having played 20 of 38 games (roughly 53%) on the road, the Wild now play six of their remaining 10 games at home—a building they have dominated with a 13-4-1 record this season. However, those games include visits by the Blackhawks, Blues, Jackets, Flames, Kings and Oilers, none of which are sure-fire guaranteed victories. Throw in road games against the Flames, Oilers, Sharks and Avalanche and the only game that could even be close to being guaranteed is that against the downward spiraling Avalanche in a building that could almost be considered Minnesota’s second home.
The Wild have to enter every game with a focused intensity and can’t take any team for granted. It doesn’t help that veterans Matt Cullen and Dany Heatley are out with injuries, but rookies Charlie Coyle and Mikael Granlund have stepped up beautifully to help fill those roles. Last year’s team would have folded without the services of Cullen and Heatley, but this year the Wild are filled to the brim with organizational depth to keep plugging along in a very real race to the playoffs.
Tomorrow night’s game against the Blackhawks may be the ultimate test of how well the last few games of the season will go for Minnesota. The Blackhawks are the best team in the league and the first to clinch a playoff spot. Fortunately for Minnesota, that may help their chances as Chicago rests their players for what they hope is a very deep run resulting in their second Stanley Cup in four years. If Minnesota can beat the Hawks tomorrow, they also stand a very good chance of beating a tough Blues team on Thursday night. And, if they can beat the Blues, the rest of their schedule is quite winnable with five games against the struggling bottom three teams in the Northwest Division, a division Minnesota has easily handled with a 9-3-1 record this season.
This is the first spring since 2008-2009 in which Minnesota has had a real chance of making the playoffs. The fans are starved, the players are starved and management is starved. Not only can this Minnesota Wild team make the playoffs, they have the potential to make a lot of noise, too. With 10 games to go in the regular season, it’s now or never for the Minnesota Wild and they know it. Let the final playoff push begin!