With the Wild leap-frogging the Colorado Avalanche for the 2nd Wild Card position, the probability that the Wild makes the Stanley Cup Playoffs is getting better. However, the 2nd Wild Card spot is forced to play the best record in the Western Conference. This season, with two teams from the Central Division vying for the best record in the conference, the Wild should be quite familiar with its opponent in the first round.
Who are those teams? Well the Dallas Stars and the St. Louis Blues - the Wild's first round opponent from last season. Sure the Los Angeles Kings are hanging around, but Stars have a four point lead over the Kings with eight to play. So technically, if both the Blues and Stars lose out, the Kings could overtake them.
Looking at the Dallas Stars match-up, Minnesota has played them five times for a 1-1-3 record. The one win came on a 2-1score on January 9th in Big D. Devan Dubnyk made 34 saves and had an early John Klingberg goal overturned on a coach's challenge as Antoine Roussel interfered with Dubnyk. Ryan Carter and Thomas Vanek got the goals for the Wild, while Dubnyk stopped 15 shots in the third period alone. Jamie Benn scored with 3:13 left in the game to make the game too close for comfort, especially when you put the game in context with the 4 losses. That win was game 41 and the win had capped off the Wild's franchise-best first half with 52 points.
Even in the losing efforts, though, the Wild showed that the Stars could be had. Twice the Wild got out to three and two goal leads by taking advantage of a high powered Stars team that hates to play in its own zone. The Wild was able to force the puck deep, and the grinding style of the Wild went to work on the Stars' defensemen. Add to the equation the Stars' really average goaltending situation of Kari Lehtonen and Antti Niemi and Minnesota was able to make the Stars look like the Avalanche.
That was until the Wild stopped applying pressure. On November 28th, Minnesota jumped out to a 3-0 lead, after Jason Pominville broke a streak of ineptitude for the ages. He ripped a slap shot from the right circle over Niemi's head for his first goal of the season. But the Wild stopped playing, probably assuming they'd coast to a win. Except you can't do that against what was then and has been the best offense in the league all season. The Wild was out-shot 35-15 in the second and third periods of the game. Looking at the the 5v5 event chart from NaturalStatTrick.com, you can see exactly when the Wild quit playing its game.
We all know how that one ended.
Fast forward to December 21st and the Wild, again, jumped out to a 2-0 lead using the same techniques by going to work on the Stars' defensemen that hate playing in their own zone. Antti Niemi even had to come in to the game to relieve Kari Lehtonen that game. You would have hoped that the team would have learned from its mistake after losing a game that it had firmly in its control less than a month prior, yet, the Wild took a couple back-to-back penalties that allowed the Stars to find their game. The Stars controlled the game almost the rest of the way and Minnesota again relinquished the lead, to eventually lose 6-3. Mind you, the last two goals of the game were of the empty-net variety for Dallas, but the Wild had to do everything to try and play catch up in the final minutes of the game.
The match-up is intriguing as the Wild, in doses, have shown that it can play with Dallas at 5-on-5. Though, when you look at special teams, it's way uglier than that. Dallas has potent power play - currently ranked 3rd in the league with a 22.3 percent convergence rate - and the Wild has an awful, though better as of late, penalty kill. Ranked 27th in the league currently, the PK hasn't help the squad against Dallas in any way, shape, or form. Minnesota has given up four power play goals being short-handed just 13 times in those games.
The Wild also hasn't had the benefit of getting drawing penalties against the Stars. With just 10 power play opportunities, the Wild only has one goal with the man-advantage versus Dallas. Not mentioning the Wild's league-mediocre power play at number 12.
The Wild is on the short end of the stick in just about every major possession stat. Its been out-shot, out-attempted, and has less scoring chances at 5-on-5, yet the Wild have the edge in goals at evens. The match-up with the Stars would be an uphill climb. The Stars are a tough team to beat, but they can be beaten. Minnesota just has to play a full game where they grind on those defensemen all game long. Then add in the Old versus New dynamic that would be fun to witness as fans from each fanbase don't much care for each other.