After The Western Road Trip, The Wild Find Themselves Back In The Playoff Mix

After completing the Western Road Trip the Minnesota Wild have crept into the WC1 spot.  With 13 games remaining on the Wild schedule fans are set for what could be a storybook ending to the 2019-2020 regular season.

ST PAUL, MINNESOTA – JANUARY 05: Alex Stalock #32 of the Minnesota Wild looks on during the game against the Calgary Flames at Xcel Energy Center on January 5, 2020, in St Paul, Minnesota. The Flames defeated the Wild 5-4 in a shootout. (Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images)

Thursday night the Wild started the road trip off on the right foot- with a critical victory visiting the ailing San Jose Sharks.  The Wild got goals from Suter, Galchenyuk, and Parise.  Fiala again extended his scoring streak another game.  Stalock was great between the pipes for the Wild.

In his 6th straight start, Stalock posted a .952 save percentage allowing two goals on 42 shots.  Per Hockey Reference, in his previous 7 starts, Stalock is 7-1-0, posting a .928 SV%, and a 2.14 GAA.  Stalock’s flaw has always been his inability to string continuous quality starts together.  Stalock is competing at a high level and in turn pushing this team into playoff contention.

Saturday afternoon Minnesota fans saw one of the worst performances of the season.  The Wild just couldn’t get things going.  Poor play, sloppy turnovers in the neutral zone, and a lack of urgency.  The Wild lost to the Kings with a final score of 3-7.  Improving to 34-27-7, the Wild sat just one point out of a Wild Card position.

The Wild were 4/4 on the penalty kill, but the power play was 0/3 and gave up a short-handed goal.  Postgame head coach Dean Evason made it clear that defensive play in their zone and a plethora of turnovers cost the Wild what should’ve been 2 points.  After the loss, Evason indicated that Dubnyk would see his first start in net since February 23rd.

The Wild walked into the Honda Center needing two critical points to keep their playoff hopes alive.  Bottom line, the Wild need a full team effort from all 4 lines.  In his first game since February 23rd, Victor Rask was promoted from the press box. He found himself slotted onto the 3rd line between wingers Greenway and Kunin.  Gerald Mayhew was scratched to make room for Rask.

The Wild opened up the first period with a great pace of play.  Capitalizing on their chances with two goals from Zuccarello and Fiala.  Still, the neutral zone turnovers continued to be an issue.  In the past three games, the Wild have refused to make the simple play and get pucks deep.  The Zuccarello goal was huge and was upheld after Anaheim challenged for goaltender interference.

Because of the failed challenge, Minnesota went onto the powerplay where Fiala netted his 22nd of the season.  Fiala again showed his scoring prowess that has been taking the NHL by storm.  Fiala’s wrist shot found the top right corner, an absolute snipe.  Fiala’s 8th PPG of the season and four behind team leader Zach Parise (12).

https://twitter.com/NHL/status/1236830089259646976?s=20

The Wild continued their success on the penalty kill. In their previous 13 games, the Wild are 32/35 on the PK.  The Wild shut down the Ducks three times the first period, and one more time in the 3rd period.  Special teams were a big factor in the Wild’s 35th victory of the season.

The second period was all Anaheim, with only 6 shots on net, Anaheim scored two goals and reclaimed the lead going into the third period.  The Wild came roaring back in the third period.  Victor Rask came in clutch for the Wild, scoring his 5th goal of the season, tying the game 3-3.

The Wild reclaimed the lead after Alex Galchenyuk buried a goal on a turnover from Nicolas Deslauriers.  With the net empty, the Ducks tied the game with 1:42 left on the clock.  Christian Djoos roofed a back door feed from Jakob Silfverberg.  The Wild headed into overtime earning a point but needing two to reclaim a WC spot in the standings.

The Wild kept the pressure up in Anaheim’s zone to start the overtime period.  Fiala was able to draw his second and most important penalty of the game.  The Wild were 4 on 3 with an offensive zone faceoff.  Kunin won the faceoff and bumped it to Fiala.  Fiala moved the puck to Suter at the point, and Suter dished it back down to Kunin in the middle of the ice.  Kunin dropped the puck back to Fiala in the slot charging toward the net.  Fiala fired a wrist shot that found the back of the net and secured two points for the Wild.

The Wild now own the first WC position in the standings.  With 13 games remaining, the Wild face the Las Vegas Golden Knights Thursday evening at the Xcel Energy Center.  What has been the key to the Wild climbing back into the playoff race?  Take your pick, the emergence of Kevin Fiala, consistent goaltending, and special teams.

Kevin Fiala has been electric since February 1st.  Fiala has been a leader on the power play.  He’s playing smart hockey, minimizing turnovers and being smart on the puck.  Wild fans need to understand that Fiala is shooting an unheard-of 17.7 percent in this stretch.  Per Hockey Reference, Fiala’s career shooting percentage is approximately 10.7 percent.

The Wild’s penalty kill has been a key on their run to the playoffs.  The Wild are 36 for 39 on the penalty kill in their past 14 games.  That’s clicking at a 92.3 percent pace, and keeping the Wild in the mix for a WC position.  The key to the continued success will ride on Fiala, Stalock, and the Wild special teams.  If the team as a whole can keep this pace going we’re going to see the Wild back in the Playoffs for the first time since 2017-2018.

Drop a comment and give me your thoughts on the Wild.  Will they make the playoffs or not?  What will be the keys to make the playoffs and possibly sustaining a deep run?