Four days of rest proved deadly for Minnesota, who gained just one point on the week going 0-1-1 in games against the Rangers and Red Wings. The Wild currently sit with 96 points and a 44-26-8, three points ahead of Calgary and four points ahead of Los Angeles and Winnipeg. A regulation or overtime win against the Jets tonight in Minnesota's home regular season finale is all it will take to seal the deal, but nothing is for certain, especially against a top rival with a fan base that travels well.
This Week's Schedule
Monday 7:00 PM vs Winnipeg Jets (FS-N)
Tuesday 7:30 PM @ Chicago Blackhawks (NBCSN)
Thursday 7:00 PM @ Nashville Predators (FS-N, FS-WI)
Saturday 2:00 PM @ St. Louis Blues (NBC)
Game of the Week
Four games against divisional rivals, two on national television, one where the club can automatically clinch with a win and another against a likely first round opponent. Take your pick. If the postseason started today, Minnesota would be playing St. Louis, and that's a tough match-up. However, you have to make the dance before finding a partner, and the Wild have their best opportunity of the week against the Dustin Byfuglien-less Jets.
Winnipeg captain Andrew Ladd leads the club with 24 goals, 61 points and a plus-9 rating in 78 games. Blake Wheeler paces the team with 25 goals and is just one point behind Ladd with 60 and a plus-25 rating. Byfuglien is out of the picture for the time being after being suspended for a vicious crosscheck to the neck of New York's J.T. Miller. It's a good thing, because he's been a monster on the Jets' back end, scoring 18 goals, 45 points and a plus-5 rating while averaging 22:39 of ice-time per night.
In the cage, Michael Hutchinson and Ondrej Pavelec have seen considerable time and have both had moments of brilliance. Hutchinson has had a great sophomore campaign with 20 wins, a 2.43 goals against average, a .913 save percentage and two shutouts. Pavelec has posted nearly identical numbers with 20 wins, a 2.44 goals against average, a .915 save percentage and two shutouts.
Key Player of the Week
Jason Zucker is close to making his return from a broken clavicle and it'll probably come as early as Thursday's game against Nashville. Zach Parise 2.0 hasn't played in nearly two months - February 9th, to be exact - yet he's still the club's fourth leading goal scorer with 18 goals and 23 points in 48 games. The addition of Zucker would be an immense boost to Minnesota's offensive firepower. He's fast, dynamic, an incredible goal scorer and terribly difficult to defend against. Best of all, Zucker gives head coach Mike Yeo a team that is a four lines deep scoring threat at all times.
Key Opponent of the Week
Chicago may be without the services of Patrick Kane, but the 'Hawks still have a few great goal scorers that make them a serious threat on a nightly basis. The head of that pack just so happens to be Chicago's captain - Jonathan Toews.
In his eighth season, the former third overall pick has been nearly a point-per-game player with 223 goals, 506 points and a plus-173 rating in 563 games played. Toews has never failed to hit the 20-goal mark and has scored 30 or more goals twice. In 79 games played this season, he has 28 goals, 66 points and a plus-32 rating. Chicago's captain has five goals and six points in the past six games, including the game-tying and game-winning tallies in the final two minutes of the Blackhawks' 4-3 win over Buffalo on Friday.
Toews is not to be underestimated, and neither is the team he leads. The Wild's defenders will have their hands full with both.