The Minnesota Wild are in Colorado to take on the Avalanche in both squads final game of the regular season. This is Colorado’s last game of the year, for Minnesota this is their last chance at the playoffs. Colorado sits in last place in the Western Conference with the second worst record in the NHL. The Wild are in the 8th and final playoff spot entering tonight’s game. Columbus is in 9th place tied with the Wild in points with 53 but Minnesota wins the tie-breakers and holds the higher position. The Detroit Red Wings are in 7th place, one point ahead of the Wild. There are a couple of different scenarios for the Wild to make the playoffs. The preferable option is for the Wild to win the game. A victory places them in the Stanley Cup Playoffs for sure with the final position dependent upon how the Red Wings and Columbus fare in their games. If the Wild lose they can still back in to a play off spot if Columbus loses, but the Wild would rather take care of business on their own. Minnesota holds a 3-0-1 record versus the Avalanche this season including a pair of wins in St. Paul along with a shootout loss. The only thing Colorado has to play for is the role of spoiler, much the same as Edmonton did last night at the Xcel Energy Center. The Wild players and coaching staff all say they are looking forward not behind as they prepare for this final battle. This is it for the Wild, win and they’re in. Lose and it’s probably time to get those early May tee times scheduled. The Wild have been in a free fall in the month of April. At the end of March Minnesota was battling for the Northwest Division lead and the accompanying top three seed in the Western Conference. Since that time the Wild have posted a dismal record of 4-8-1 in the month of April and finds them struggling to remain in the play off picture. Minnesota has had difficulty finding consistency as the end of the regular season approaches getting shut out 3 times and scoring two or fewer goals in another 7 contests.
Wild net minder Niklas Backstrom will be starting in goal tonight, a point that Head Coach Mike Yeo made clear last night after the 6-1 debacle against the Oilers. Yeo said, “I’ve got total confidence in Backy to play that game. This one hurts, but I’ve seen this group respond enough, I’ve seen our leadership enough, to still be confident.” During his career Backstrom has been fantastic in games after one in which he was pulled, I expect that trend to continue tonight. Defensively I don’t see the Wild making any wholesale changes to the defensive pairings. Ryan Suter and Jonas Brodin will be facing the Avalanche’s top line. Jared Spurgeon will remain paired with Justin Falk, while Tom Gilbert skates with Clayton Stoner. The defense is going to have to perform at a much higher level than last night. They simply cannot allow the Avalanche to set up shop in front of the Wild net. To many times against the Oilers Minnesota allowed opposing skaters unrestricted access to the slot area where forwards had easy shots at the net. Tonight Minnesota must make life miserable for the opposition if the try to set up shop in front of Backstrom.
Offensively the Wild had no trouble getting shots on goal, they did however have trouble getting rebound opportunities. Tonight the Wild forwards must generate second and third chance off of an initial shot. The lines should look pretty much the same with Mikko Koivu, Zach Parisema and Charlie Coyle on the top line and leading the Wild power play. Minnesota was 0 for 2 against the Oilers and need to cash in on any man advantages they get tonight. Special teams may well be the difference in this game. Minnesota has a 17.6 percent success rate won the power play to 15.1 for Colorado. The Wild kill penalties at the same 80.6 percent rate as the Avalanche. The Wild average 2.45 goals per game compared to 2.40 for the Av’s. I don’0t expect this to be a high scoring affair with the team that performs better defensively and executes the better forecheck to emerge the victor. The next two lines for Minnesota should be Matt Culen with Devin Setoguchi and Cal Clutterbuck, line three is Torrey Mitchell, Kyle Brodziak and Pierre-Marc Bouchard. That leaves the energy/checking line of Zenon Konopka, Mike Rupp and Jake Dowell. One key to tonight’s game is a balance scoring attack. The top line can;t do it alone and needs some scoring opportunities from the 2nd and 3rd lines. As I’ve said over and over and over a quick start is a must. Friday night against Edmonton minnesota gave up the momentum early and spent the rest of the games chasing the puck trying to get it back.
It’s do or die time for the Wild. Lose tonight and the “we’ll get ‘em next time” becomes next season. The Wild have the talent on both sides of the puck and in goal to perform at a very high level. It’s gut check time. This team is more than capable of winning this game in a dominating fashion. Getting the first goal, limiting time on the penalty kill, following up shots by crashing the net and playing their game will put Minnesota in position to win tonight and advance to the 1st round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the first time since 2008. The goal is within reach boys, go get it! I’ll be back after the game with a full recap and analysis of tonight’s action. Until then this is Scott Drain loudly, yelling, “LET’S GO WILD!!!!!’