Crucial Back-To-Back This Weekend For Minnesota Wild


Just about a month remaining in the 2014-2015 regular season, and the Minnesota Wild arguably have one of, if not the, toughest remaining schedule in the NHL, with 13 of their final 15 games coming against current playoff seeded teams (14 if you believe that the 9th place Kings are really a playoff team). This begins Friday night in a pivotal back-to-back with western conference powerhouses, St. Louis Blues, and Anaheim Ducks.

Anaheim and St. Louis both seem to have the Wild’s number the past few seasons, including this year. Minnesota has a combined 0-2-1 record against the potential playoff match-ups. Each game however, was decided by a lone goal. What better test for the surging Wild entering the final stretch? If Minnesota wants to be taken seriously, they will have to beat these western conference favorites on a consistent basis.

The Wild need to play at least .500 hockey from here on out to maintain their wildcard spot. They’ll have to be even better if their goal is catching Chicago. Currently, the Wild are just three points behind the Blackhawks. With 81 points, there is no room for error, especially with the Jets on their heels with 78 and the Kings at 77. The Wild have to keep that scoring coming from all four lines, much like they did in the 6-2 shellacking they gave New Jersey on Tuesday.

“Duck Season” Finale

The Wild have lost twice to Anaheim this year already and will be looking to avoid the season sweep Friday night. If the season ended today, Minnesota would play Anaheim in the playoffs for the third time in franchise history. In those three series the Wild have been less than noticeable, losing the first two series by a total of eight games to one. Don’t worry, the Wild wouldn’t have to shut down Dany “hot wheels” Heatley, he was traded to Florida at the trade deadline.

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This is a very winnable game for the Wild. They’ve proved they can play with anyone over the last month. With Anaheim coming off of a 6-3 loss to Calgary last night, they haven’t yet broken out of their slump. Losers of three straight, Coach Bruce Boudreau has expressed his agitation with his team.

"We make some really bad reads on them, we don’t take a guy in front of the net, and there’s nothing our goalie can do about these shots… The goaltending wasn’t our problem"

The last time these teams played was December 5th, a 5-4 Ducks win, which saw Keith Ballard take out Corey Perry with his patented hip check.

The Ducks took exception to the hit, as it appeared low. It was a legal hip check however, despite  Perry missing the following month of action with a lower body injury. Perhaps the Ducks need a walk down memory lane. Flashback to the third game of the season, October 17th in Anaheim.

Now, which hit exactly is cheap? Technically, there was still around 0.3 seconds left on the game clock, but this is a run taken by someone who was just outplayed all game long by Zach Parise and Mikael Granlund.

The point is, there always seems to be bad blood carried over from each game between these two. More on this one in tomorrow’s Gone Puck Wild game preview.

A St. Louis Saturday

Just over four weeks remain in the regular season and Minnesota has only played our Missourian rivals once this year. A 3-2 SO loss back in November. Including Saturday, these teams will play each other three more times to close out the year. These are the most intriguing games in my eyes, as we have had playoff series with Chicago and Colorado recently, but am craving an opening round series with the Blues. To do that, we would have to jump Chicago or have the Blues and Nashville swap spots.

This is the first game back to St. Louis for former Blue Chris Stewart, now a member of the Wild. We saw Stewie drop the gloves with Avalanche forward Cody McLeod Sunday evening, in a pretty good spirited bout. But by the game’s end, I’m sure I wasn’t the only one who asked, “What did that fight really do for the team?”  Could argue that it was kind of pointless to drop the gloves so soon into the game, as Minnesota failed to put the puck in the net until five minutes remained in regulation, by who other than Chris Stewart. Or, look at it as Minnesota just faced a red hot goalie in Varlamov. I could see Stewart getting into it Saturday with agitator Steve Ott, each of whom were traded for the other last season.

These games are normally physically demanding for each team. Minnesotans David Backes and TJ Oshie play solid two-way games, complimented by scorers Vladimir Tarasenko and Jaden Schwartz. Throw in a solid defence and often overlooked goaltender Brian Elliott and this team is a constant threat. Elliott’s 22-10-2 record, 2.21 GAA and save percentage of 92% is a career-best thus far, and I believe (when healthy) he could be considered an elite goalie.

Should be a fun couple of days for us fans. After Saturday, Minnesota is off until Tuesday where they’ll be in Nashville, looking for two straight wins in the Music City.

Playoff/Bubble Team Schedules: (through the weekend)

LA Kings – @Vancouver tonight; vs Nashville Saturday

SJ Sharks – vs Nashville tonight; vs Chicago Saturday

WPG Jets – @ Florida tonight; @ Tampa Bay Saturday

CGY Flames – vs Toronto Friday; @ Colorado Saturday

VAN Canucks – vs LA tonight; vs Toronto Saturday

Sorry Stars and Avalanche, no mentions here, your season’s over.

Next: A Look at the History of the Vezina to Determine if Dubnyk Has a Chance

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