The Wild are almost assuredly going to the playoffs this season, which is a pretty remarkable thing in itself, considering how far out of the race the Wild were.
But it can't end there for the Wild's season to become remembered as a success. They're gonna have to exceed, or at least meet their appearance in the Western Conference Semifinals to do that.
That means exiting Round 1. And at this time, there are only four possible teams the Wild could be matched up against in Round 1 of the playoffs. I've got nothing better to do today, so let's check them all out.
Overall Chances of Facing Them: 43.6%
Point Total Most Likely to Draw Them: 99-102
Record Against, 14-15: 2-1-1
Record Against, Last 3 Years: 7-4-1
Strengths: Much has been made of the Wild being able to beat Pekka Rinne, and it's true that they've lit him up this season. In four games, Rinne only has an .895 Sv% against the Wild. But before this year? Rinne's owned the Wild to the tune of a .926 Sv%. The Wild have good reason to fear him. They also have good reason to fear that defensive corps. Shea Weber, Roman Josi, Cody Franson, and Seth Jones aren't anything to trifle with.
Vulnerabilities: Nashville's a balanced offensive team, but that means that they don't have much in the way of top talent. Mike Ribero and Filip Forsberg have piled on points, relatively speaking, but no other forward has mustered more than a solid point total. It's part of the reason they've got a bottom-10 power play.
Fear Factor: 5. Most Wild fans express a preference for facing the Preds, and that's probably reasonable. But Rinne and that defense means there's a reason the Preds are competing for a President's Trophy. They won't be pushovers.
Overall Odds of Facing Them: 21.3%
Point Total Most Likely to Draw Them: 104-107
Record Against, 14-15: 2-0-1
Record Against, Last 3 Years: 3-5-3
Strengths: The Blues have the same punishing, physical team they've had in previous seasons, and now have an offensive superstar in Vladimir Tarasenko. Alex Pietrangelo and Kevin Shattenkirk are a top-tier 1-2 punch at defense. St. Louis is also Top-10 on both the Power Play and Penalty Kill.
Vulnerabilities: The Blues' goaltending is shaky, and the Blues manage to find a way to lose around this time of year. TJ Oshie's one passable skill is rendered completely irrelevant in the playoffs.
Fear Factor: 9. The Wild generally get beaten up by the Blues, particularly on the road. Of the 3 wins vs. St. Louis in the last 3 seasons, the Wild only really played well in one of them. It's a bad track record. St. Louis' equally bad track record is the only thing keeping them from being a 10.
Overall Odds of Facing Them: 18.2%
Point Total Most Likely to Draw Them: 95-99
Record Against, 14-15: 0-3-0
Record Against, Last 3 Years: 1-7-1
Strengths: Ryan Getzlaf, Corey Perry, and Ryan Kesler are as known for their skill as their douchebaggery, which is actually pretty impressive. Acquiring James Wisniewski and Simon Depres at the deadline gave a boost to a blueline that already had Cam Fowler, Sami Vatanen, and Hampus Lindholm. That's gonna go a long way toward hiding Clayton Stoner.
Vulnerabilities: Despite leading the league in points, the Ducks aren't a very good possession team, ranking middle-of-the-pack in most metrics. Which is weird, because they're not riding hot goaltending, or unsustainable shooting numbers. They just keep winning. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
Fear Factor: 7. The Ducks have seemed to have the Wild's number in recent years, but there's no reason on paper the Wild can't win a series against the Ducks.
Overall Odds to Face Them: 16.7%
Point Total Most Likely to Draw Them: 105-107
14-15 Record Against: 1-3-0
Last 3 Years Record Against: 5-12-3 (8-including playoffs)
Strengths: Jonathan Toews and Marian Hossa are elite two-way options. Duncan Keith anchors the blueline. Patrick Sharp is suffering some awful shooting luck, but he's playing well. Brandon Saad makes the Wild rue picking Zack Phillips in the 2011 Draft. They have their own "In Case of Playing Wild, Break Glass" player in Bryan "Not Stu" Bickell. Everyone craps on Corey Crawford, but he's actually a really good goalie.
Vulnerabilities: Patrick Kane is out, and he may be out for well past the first round (He suffered a collarbone injury in late February). The Blackhawks have been struggling dearly without him. Chicago's defense was crippled by the salary cap this summer, when they traded Nick Leddy to the Islanders. Nick Leddy is now a superstar, which the Hawks miss dearly on their blueline.
Fear Factor: 7 with Kane, 6 without him. The Wild played the Blackhawks tough last season, with "SHOWTIME!" Kane being the X-factor that propelled the Hawks to the Western Conference Finals. With a better team, and better goaltending, the Wild should be able to give the sputtering Blackhawks all they can handle. That in mind, the Blackhawks know how to turn on the jets and make a playoff run.
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Regardless of who the Wild draw in the first round, they aren't going to play any pushovers. Sure, you can have your preferences, and I have mine. But despite any flaws in each team, they've done the work necessary to get to the playoffs in a very tough Western Conference, and unlike last year, there's no way the Wild can face a fluke in Round 1. With how the Wild have played in the last two and a half months, they also have legitimate Cup ambitions. To legitimize them, they'll have to show that they beat any team that they put in front of them.
But it's no fun to say "Whatever, bring them on." What do you think?