Minnesota Wild: Take a Lesson from the North Stars

Mar 20, 2016; Chicago, IL, USA; The Minnesota Wild celebrate their victory following the shootout against the Chicago Blackhawks at the United Center. Minnesota won 3-2 in a shoot out. Mandatory Credit: Dennis Wierzbicki-USA TODAY Sports
Mar 20, 2016; Chicago, IL, USA; The Minnesota Wild celebrate their victory following the shootout against the Chicago Blackhawks at the United Center. Minnesota won 3-2 in a shoot out. Mandatory Credit: Dennis Wierzbicki-USA TODAY Sports /

The Minnesota Wild are struggling to get into the playoffs, and some are wondering if they get in will they even be able to go anywhere?  Here’s the story of another Minnesota team that did go far.

The NHL Playoffs are a grudge match, battle royale, and Thunderdome all rolled into one that will test the will and heart of every player on a roster.  The idea is that you play 82 games to get into the playoffs and then get a start fresh from the opening whistle of your first game of the opening series.  The aim is to win 16 games to be able to lift Lord Stanley’s Cup, and it’s much easier said than done.

Still to have a chance to get there you need to get in.  In the history of the NHL there have been so many examples of epic runs to the cup that involved teams that maybe struggled and faltered during the season, but they found their game in the playoffs.

Looking around the State of Hockey lately all you see is a heaping dose of pessimism for the Wild and their chances of making anything of this season.  Lots of people are talking about a hopeless Wild team and its underachieving players.  While I think everyone is entitled to a bit of venting I’d like to remind everyone of a story of another team from Minnesota.

The 1990-91 Minnesota North Stars were a team that had an awful regular season finishing 27-39-14 which was luckily good enough for a 4th place finish in the Norris Division.  Under the old NHL playoff system the top four teams from each division made the playoffs.   It didn’t matter that the Stars had a losing record, they just had to be better than one team in their division, that year the Toronto Maple Leafs were 13 points worse.

That year it looked as if the North Stars didn’t have a prayer heading into the playoffs.  To end the season as the they lost six of their final ten games, and were struggling to find a consistent game.  It looked as if the top seeded Blackhawks, who won eight games in that ten game stretch, would have an easy time of dispatching them in the first round.

From the opening puck drop Coach Bob Gainey had the North Stars ready to play.  The former Montreal great lifted the cup five times and knew his team could do it.  Gainey’s North Stars started by shocking Chicago in overtime 4-3 in the iconic Chicago Stadium.  From there they would trade blows with the Blackhawks, but in the end dispatch them in game six at the Met Center.

It didn’t stop there.  In the next round the Stars would take out perhaps one of the best scoring tandems ever in the form of Brett Hull and Adam Oates when they bested the Blues in six games to win the Norris Division Final.  Even after taking down the Blues the North Stars still were counted out going into the Campbell Conference Final against the defending Cup champs the Edmonton Oilers.

This was the Oilers dynasty minus Gretzky, and it seemed that the North Stars would run out of luck.  Not only did the North Stars not run out of luck, they dominated the defending champs by scoring 25 goals and winning the series in five games.  The North Stars once again bested a team that on paper was far superior.

The Stanley Cup Final would be a tougher test for the young North Stars.  The Pittsburgh Penguins were a young team led by none other than “The Magnificent One” Mario Lemieux.  The North Stars started strong by winning the first game one the road in Pittsburgh and then winning game three back in Minnesota.  With a 2-1 series lead it looked like the North Stars were going to bring the Land of 10,000 Lakes its first Stanley Cup.  Alas the wheels finally fell off as the Pens went on a roll and won the next three straight to win the cup in six.

That’s it folks…the abbreviated version of the greatest professional hockey playoff in Minnesota history.  Strange to think that it started with a bottom seeded North Stars team who struggled going into the playoffs, yet came within two games of the cup.  See any similarities?

Next: MN Wild: A Young and Struggling Franchise

If you got anything out of this stroll down memory lane is that anything can happen once a team is in the playoffs.  The Wild are fighting to get in right now, but if they do get there don’t be ready to write them off so fast.  You may doubt their heart or their drive, but when given an opportunity competitors rise to the challenge.  Based on this weekend’s wins there’s competitors on this Wild team…let’s see how far they can go.