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The Road Home: Playoffs or Bust?

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The Wild have a long road back to the Playoffs

Marilyn Indahl-USA TODAY Sports

The Wild need to go on an epic run to make the playoffs. It is do-able, but it will be tough. What's frustrating and hard to predict about this team is how they will play any given night. They've dominated play and lost, and they've played poorly and won (see Tuesday's matchup with the Oilers). How much of that poor play is the ‘system' and how much is simply the players not executing is hard to know. What we do know is that Yeo's roster decisions and deployment choices seem to be hurting the team.

That said, we know that the Wild need about 24-25 more win through the season if they are going to have a decent shot at the playoffs.

The schedule for the rest of the year breaks down like this:

The Wild play:

1 Game: The Panthers, Stars, Senators, Devils, Ducks, Maple Leafs, Islanders, Kings, Rangers, and Red Wings

2 Games: The Blackhawks, Jets, Hurricanes, Oilers, and Capitals

3 Games: The Flames, Canucks, Avalanche, Predators, and the Blues

For those of you keeping track, that's 14 conference games, and 21 non-conference games left in the schedule.

Obviously conference games are more important than non-conference games, but at this point the Wild should be looking to grab points the Shakira way. One team distinctly missing from this list is the oh-so-bad Buffalo Sabres; unfortunately the Wild have had their chance to beat up on the resident AHL squad, and won't have the chance again till next year.

Counting Forwards

The games that most worry me are those against the Predators, Blues, and Blackhawks. Those are 3 of the best teams in the league, and the Wild play them a total of 8 times over the rest of the season. That's 16 points possible, all in-division. At their best, the Wild hung 5 goals on Pekka Rinne, one of the best netminders in the league, and they'll need to play about that well to give the Preds, Blues, and Hawks a run for their money.

The Jets give the Wild a chance for 4 more conference points, and the Avalanche add 6 more; that's 10 points in-conference that the Wild should be able to nab. The Jets are not the pushovers of the past, but the Wild have enough horsepower to beat them. Last years' division champions are not the powerhouse they were last season, but neither are they someone the Wild can ignore. While it's true the Wild have outscored the Lanche 8-0 this season, it would be a mistake to look past their dynamic duo in net of Varlamov and Pickard; Pickard in particular has been one of the season's hottest goalies.

That just leaves the one lone game against Dallas for the Wild's divisional rivals; the Wild have seemed to have their number this season, and hopefully that will continue. Put another way: it almost has to continue.

Of the non-conference games, the biggest challenges can be found in the Kings, Rangers, Ducks, and Red Wings. Fortunately, the Wild only play each of them once. Unfortunately, they are teams the Wild has had a hard time beating. Of the 8 points available, the Wild will want to grab at least half, ideally more.

The Wild haven't met the Canucks or Flames yet- we'll get our first look at the Calgary team tonight. Of the 12 points available, the Wild will want as many as they can get; dropping more than 3 or 4 may be too many.

The Hurricanes, Oilers, and Leafs should really be easy points, relatively speaking. They Wild can't relax, but these are teams that are worse than the Wild are.

The caveat through all of this is, of course, that the Wild will need NHL-ish level goaltending to have a prayer.

Counting Backwards

Rather than looking at where the Wild are, let's look at where they would like to end up. The Wild currently have 48 points in the standings. To make the playoffs, they should need at least 96 points if they want a decent chance of making the playoffs (the Flames are on pace for JUST under 94). This means that of their remaining 35 games, the Wild need to pick up no fewer than 48 points (for you math whizzes, that means that in the final 35 games, the Wild need as many points as they earned in the first 47). It also means that the Wild can only afford to drop 22 standings points in their final 35 games.

Now, there are a million (exaggeration) ways the Wild could earn that many points, especially considering the Bettman PointTM that exists nowadays. Instead of breaking it down by that record (though the normal answer is around 10 losses allowed in the final 35 games), let's look at where we can lose points and not be completely hopeless.

A brief side note: obviously, the Wild could win a game they were "supposed" to lose, and lose a game they were "supposed" to win, and it's all the same mathematically speaking. This is purely for us to panic (or not) when something doesn't go "according to plan."

The biggest obstacles for the Wild are the Big Three TeamsTM of the NHL: The Hawks, the Predators, and the Blues- especially the Blues. For some reason, the Wild have a tougher time playing the Blues than North Carolina does beating Yale in Penalty Kicks. The two teams play thrice in the coming months; six points on the table for the taking. Of those six, the Wild need to grab at least 3.

The Wild and the Predators also play three times. Of these 9 points, the Wild need to grab 2; the Predators are a dangerous team, even without Pekka Rinne. Finally, the Blackhawks and the Wild play twice more, and the Wild need to come back and take at least 3 of the four points available.

From the Big Three TeamsTM in the NHL, the Wild need to take 8 of 19 points. This is assuming the Wild can play the HECK out of the rest of their season, which I'm not convinced they can do. It would be much more comforting if the Wild could get another point or two against these teams. If they only take 8 of 19 points, then they can only afford to drop 14 more points in the rest of their games.

Six of those points could easily come against the Rangers, Ducks, and Kings; the Wild need to win at least one, preferably two of these. The Wild out-played the Rangers early in the year before collapsing in the 3rd period. The Wild also have out-played the Ducks... only to lose because of poor goaltending (from this point out, just insert that after most sentences, ok?). The Kings have not been their normal selves, but decimated the Wild earlier this year.

It would be a mistake too to overlook Dallas, Winnipeg, or the Red Wings. The Wild need at least 3 points from these three teams, and it would be best to get more. Between those three games and the ten against Dallas, Washington, Ottawa, Vancouver, and Calgary (13 games, 26 points on the table) the Wild need to take a minimum of 18 points.

If the Wild won or lost in overtime every game for the rest of the season, they would still need to win a minimum of 12 games; easily do-able. However, the likelihood of that happening is almost zero. To put the task in front of Minnesota in perspective: to this point, the Wild are on pace for about 68 points. They need to gain 28 more than that; 14 wins that would have been losses, or 28 ties that would have been losses, or some combination thereof. This will not be easy, but it is possible.

In Summation

There's nothing here we didn't already know; the Wild have dug themselves a hole, and they won't have an easy time getting out of it. Calgary and Vancouver are not to be overlooked, yet at this point are small fish compared to some other groups on the schedule. If the Wild are going to make a run to the playoffs, tonight's game is as important as any other, and lost points now could really come back to bite them when the Blackhawks and Jets come to town (in a back-to-back no less).

So, what do you think, Wilderness? Where can the Wild afford to drop a game or three? Against whom do you see the Wild winning and whom do you see them losing?