A shootout win over the defending champion Chicago Blackhawks on Sunday night was huge for the Minnesota Wild, no question. However, the division rival Avalanche are determined to get back into the postseason after missing out last year. As of this Sunday night writing, the Wild are 34-28-11 with 79 points, occupying the second wild card and final playoff spot in the West. Colorado is just behind with 78 points, while Arizona, Calgary and the rest of the conference outside postseason contention are nearly out of sight.
Unfortunately, the Avs were up 3-1 on Edmonton at the time of scheduling this piece to publish, meaning Minnesota is probably back in ninth place by the time you read this. Welcome to the excitement of the stretch run. It only gets more intense from here.
This Week's Schedule
Thursday, March 24th - Minnesota Wild vs Calgary Flames 7:00 PM CT (FS-N)
Saturday, March 26th - Minnesota Wild @ Colorado Avalanche 2:00 PM CT (FS-N)
Game of the Week
Minnesota already needs every point it can get if they're going to climb into the postseason. Two points against the very team they need to leapfrog would be most beneficial. Colorado is playing injured, and a series-clinching OT goal is still ringing in the rafters, but this is no give-me by any stretch of the imagination. If Minnesota doesn't come away with at least two points against LA and Calgary, a loss in the Can could mean an early end to the season.
Key Player of the Week
Jason Pominville (no, that's not a typo) could provide a huge boost for the Wild if he can make his return from a lower body injury this week. A player that struggled for most of the season, Pominville turned into a different beast entirely after a coaching change and new line mates. Since joining Nino Niederreiter and Erik Haula on Minnesota's "third line", Pommer has five goals, 12 points, a plus-7 rating, 24 shots on goal, two power play goals, four power play points and a game-winning goal in 11 games played. When healthy, his line is not only the best line in St. Paul, but potentially the best in the league as both Niederreiter and Haula have continued to play prominent roles during his absence.
Minnesota will need every gun blazing to reach the playoffs, and Pominville has a howitzer when his game is on. Let's pray it is.
Key Opponent of the Week
Still the best goaltender in franchise history according to the records, Niklas Backstrom could make his first appearance against his former club for the Flames on Thursday. The aging Finn made his first start in nearly 18 months with a 21-save effort in a 4-1 victory over Montreal Sunday night. Backstrom went 194-142-50 in 409 appearances with the Wild, collecting a 2.48 goals against average, a .915 save percentage and 28 shutouts. While Minnesota has clearly moved on from the former Vezina finalist, a heart-felt video montage is surely in store for his return on Thursday. Welcome home, Backs.