The latest Wild stammer, I won’t call it a slide yet, has driven me outside the friendly confines of 140 characters to do a full editorial. At the end of Saturday’s game against the Blue Jackets, as I watched the Wild and Blue Jackets skate off the ice, I was reminded of any episode of The Lone Ranger. You remember, the poor quality black and white television show of the 1950s with poor film editing and huge black splotches and cracks within the film that would appear out of nowhere to blot out even the main characters momentarily. The primitive cardboard-like background of sky and mountains is priceless. It’s the final scene I thought of, when two or three of the townsfolk watch The Lone Ranger and Tonto gallop off into the sunset and one of them inevitably inquires, "Who was that masked man"?
That must’ve been what the 18,001 Excel faithful, and maybe even a few of the Wild themselves must’ve been asking at the end of the shootout Saturday. That "masked man" was none other than Sergei Bobrovsky, the 2013 Vezina Trophy winner. Time after time in the second period, he turned away all the hard rubber discs the Wild could throw at him, doing his best Robin Hood impression, robbing scoring chances from the Wild, and giving the puck to the referee for a faceoff. If scoring goals was a crime, he was having none of it while he was on neighborhood watch. Only another fine performance from our own "masked man" saved a point in the standings for the Wild. If a tie is like kissing your sister, an overtime/shootout loss is more like kissing your mother-in-law, especially at this time of the season.
Then came last night. The Wild took an impressive record against the Bruins into the Garden, where they were an unbeaten 6-0, and this time faced off against an old nemesis, Jarome Iginla. Wild fans remember him well. The Jarome Iginla that as a Calgary Flame scored his 500th goal against the Wild. And it wasn’t so bad that he scored his 500th against the Wild, but he also scored his 497th, his 491st, his 451st…and fast forward, his 554th and 555th. You get the picture. He’s feasted on the Wild since the 2000-01 season, and appears to be jumping out of a phone booth and be wearing a cape when playing against the Wild. Some of you still remember phone booths, don’t you?
So where does that leave our Wild? Depending on how you look at it, they are creeping their way toward, or away, from a second consecutive playoff appearance. They are not in total collapse, but a 5-2-3, or 13 of a possible 20 points in their last ten, and a 1-2-3 record in their past six doesn’t give anybody a warm fuzzy. The recent streak of five in a row following the Olympic break is ancient history. They are a mere 3 points ahead of now 8th spot Phoenix and five in front of 9th spot Dallas. On the shiny side of the penny, a recent slide of the LA Kings still has the Wild just two points behind them in the 6th spot.
I feel down when I think about this team. I don’t want to, but I can’t help it. I shouldn’t, but I do. I couldn’t really put my finger on it. Perhaps is was due to past collapses, including last season where they pulled out a desperation game 82 win to squeak by the Columbus Blue Jackets, who won their last three games that season. Perhaps it is the eerie ability of this team to quit playing with a lead. Or perhaps it’s the inability to put teams away in the standings when they have the chance. This bad feeling I have is frustration. The Wild is a team who, through the draft and free agency, has evolved to the point where they’re "too good" on paper to stay on the bubble of the playoff picture. We’ve finally reached the point where we’ve got the talent to put four dangerous forward lines on the ice, and as usual, have solid goaltending with youngster Darcy Kuemper leading the way.
With that said, what Wild fan, including me, isn’t thinking of not only making the playoffs, but also making some noise in the playoffs? So why is this team – the one in the green with four solid lines and excellent goaltending - fighting for there playoff lives in the 7th spot? That question drives me nuts. Underachieving? To me they really don’t appear to be, but in truth, they struggle against teams they should put away. "Play to the level of your opponent" is a tag that no team wants to live with, but what was the result of a hapless Edmonton team that comes all the way back from three down? Points lost. What are the results of a recent poor performance against Dallas? Points lost. And what’s the result of peppering but not finding the back of the net against Columbus? Points lost. Then you run into the Bruins, a team that maybe should beat you in a home game – and do. Opportunities and points lost at a time when points are like gold to a 7th place team. And if you haven’t looked at the last 14 games, friends of the Wild, points aren’t going to be falling from the rafters for this team. Multiple games with the Blackhawks, and Blues, along with games against the Preds, Penguins, along with equally point hungry teams like the Kings, Coyotes, and Canucks. And yes, appearing at a phone booth near you, we’ll get to see the sickening talent of Mr. Iginla again. Luckily, we have a game up on Phoenix, but thanks to a postponement, Dallas has a game in hand on us. I’m not trying to be cold, it was a serious situation on the Dallas bench that night, one that dwarfs the magnitude of the playoff run, but it was a game Dallas was losing at the time of the incident.
Bottom line is, the Wild is looking for roughly 15 points in 14 games, starting with tonight’s tilt against a New York team who should be thinking about the golf links about now. So we need 15 in 14 and realistically, two of those 14 should come tonight. It’s not an impossible task, but a daunting one nonetheless. You are what your record says you are. So the Wild are a 7th place club, regardless of what the names on a paper roster say. Guess I was just expecting to enjoy watching games down the stretch instead of constantly looking at the scoreboard. So with that said, I’ll be doing something I wouldn’t have expected to do this season, sweating out the last 14 games in front of the television, just like you. Go Wild.