The Minnesota Wild didn't play well enough to win their final home game of the season on Monday. That they played the Winnipeg Jets, a fellow playoff bubble team, that night made their three-game losing streak a bit more concerning than it would have been otherwise. But at the end of the day, the Minnesota Wild needed to win just one more game to clinch a playoff spot for the third consecutive season.
Well, panic time is over. We could start Niklas Backstrom the last two games, and it wouldn't matter one iota. Minnesota defeated Chicago at the United Center 2-1 en route to their clinching.
This game was notable for the return of Jason Zucker, who recovered from a broken collarbone suffered not two months ago. Zucker was immediately inserted on the top line with Mikko Koivu and Chris Stewart. Surprisingly, Zucker didn't seem to miss a beat at all, leading the team with 5 shots and 8 shot attempts in just under 16 minutes.
In a marked contrast to earlier in the season, the Wild (who, in fairness, were playing on yet another back-to-back) were out-played in the first two periods (being out-shot 23-15) but bailed out by their goaltending. Even though Devan Dubnyk's started approximately 42,069 games for the Wild, it still feels weird to say that.
But it wasn't until the third period when the Wild were able to get on the board, when Mikael Granlund took a Zach Parise rebound to score a nifty backhanded goal on Corey Crawford. Granlund's goal was just his first in over a month, and only his 8th this season. Hopefully, the goal will be the start of good things to come for Granlund, who has been struggling offensively this season.
Just a few minutes later, Chris Stewart won a board battle, and carried the puck out of the defensive zone into Chicago's territory, where he found Zucker for a snipe to put the Wild up 2-0. It's hard to overstate how incredible it is that Zucker hadn't seemed to miss a beat after two months of being sidelined. His speed, shot, and enthusiasm were exactly what we saw from him when he went down in February.
From then on, nothing was stopping the Wild, not even Wild Killer Bryan Bickell. Bickell continued his dominance of the Wild (and no other team), scoring his 14th goal of the season (4th against the Wild) with the extra attacker on. Whatever Mike Yeo did to Bickell, it must have been really, really bad. But the Bickell goal was meaningless, as the Wild were able to hold on and clinch their playoff spot.
It's been a very special run for the Minnesota Wild, and it's incredibly relieving that the Wild don't have to worry about a playoff spot going into their last two games. Hats off to the team, and bring on the Ducks/Predators/Blues.