The Minnesota Wild are legitimately in the mix for a playoff spot, but could they wind up being a postseason spoiler in the Western Conference?
As a nod to the fluidity of the standings, the Minnesota Wild have fallen from the first wild card spot to a point back while not playing since Sunday. With a 15-8 mark in their last 23 games, on each side of a coaching change from Bruce Boudreau to Dean Evason, the Wild seem to be hitting a stride at the right time.
Wild fans have, of course, seen these sugar highs before. Coaching changes or notable player additions have spurred surges plenty of times, only to fade into an early playoff exit or missing the second season entirely.
But could it be different this time? Could the Wild become a playoff spoiler in the Western Conference? The upcoming schedule will tell the tale.
The Wild will host the Pacific Division-leading Vegas Golden Knights Thursday night. Then they’ll hit the road to play the Philadelphia Flyers (89 points; second in the Metropolitan Division) on Saturday before coming back home to play the Nashville Predators on a back-to-back Sunday night. Nashville enters Wednesday holding the top wild card spot in the West.
Then comes a home-and-home with Chicago Blackhawks (March 17 and 19), who are clinging to faint playoff hopes as they enter Wednesday eight points back of the last wild card spot in the West. After that, Minnesota will play the Winnipeg Jets on the road and Colorado Avalanche at home. The Jets have 78 points, with only a tie-breaker keeping them out of the second wild card spot, and Colorado has a solid hold on second place in the Central Division.
Those seven games, against a bevy of playoff teams and contenders, will be the most critical stretch of the season for Minnesota. Failure to gather at least half of the possible points in those games stands to take them off the pace for a wild card spot, as much as eking into a playoff spot would even benefit them anyway.
If the Wild do emerge from their upcoming stretch of games still in playoff contention, they’ll have six games left to either solidify a spot or make a final definitive push. The last four games of the season will be on the road, which will be challenging enough. But the St. Louis Blues, New York Rangers, Washington Capitals and Predators will not be pushovers as they each try to get a playoff spot or secure a better seed.
The randomness of hockey opens the door for any team to make a run, and playoff upsets happen every year. But if they even get there, the Wild just don’t have the look of a Western Conference playoff spoiler and the next set of games will be the proof.
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