The Minnesota Wild are finally in a really good place. With a decisive 4-0 victory over the Colorado Avalanche Saturday afternoon, Minnesota is in the driver's seat in its quest for a fourth straight year of NHL playoffs. In 76 games played, the Wild are 37-28-11 with 85 points and have gone 6-3-1 in their past 10 games. Colorado has also won more than lost recently, yet finds itself looking up from five points below with seven very difficult games against current playoff-bound teams left in the regular season schedule. Though 6-3-1 in their past-10 with a current three-game win streak, the Arizona Coyotes are an afterthought at this point.
This Week's Schedule
Tuesday, March 29th - Minnesota Wild vs Chicago Blackhawks 7:00 PM CT (FS-N)
Thursday, March 31st - Minnesota Wild vs Ottawa Senators 7:00 PM CT (FS-N, FS-WI)
Friday, April 1st - Minnesota Wild @ Detroit Red Wings 6:30 PM CT (FS-N, NHLN-US)
Sunday, April 3rd - Minnesota Wild @ Winnipeg Jets 7:00 PM CT (FS-N, RSN)
Game of the Week
You know 'em, you hate 'em, even though Minnesota has beat them every time thus far this season. The hatred doesn't make sense unless you know what I know - the Chicago Blackhawks are an entirely different team altogether in the postseason. Regular season dominance means absolutely squat to a team that has been sent to an early tee time each of the past three postseasons by these very same 'Hawks. Regardless of recent struggles, Chicago will be a handful.
Key Player of the Week
Zach Parise has been a beast in recent games. Of course, it helps his recent roll was given an extra boost with a game against long-time Wild goaltender Niklas Backstrom. Parise and Co. dropped a touchdown on Backs, as both Parise (three goals, one assist) and Mikko Koivu collected four-point games. In his past three games, Minnesota's top line left winger has five goals, seven points, a plus-3 rating, two power play goals and 14 shots on goal.
Parise has rediscovered some magic with former 2012-13 line mates Koivu and Charlie Coyle, and they've been a tough line to contain on a regular basis. The consistent production of the speedy Erik Haula-Nino Niederreiter line has also helped remove some of the defensive pressure that would normally be focused on Parise. There are a number of players head coach John Torchetti would love to see step up their game, but Parise playing at the top of his game while Minnesota's other lines are rolling gives the Wild a huge advantage.
Key Opponent of the Week
Obviously upset with me a few weeks ago when I only had him listed as a runner-up, Ottawa defenseman Erik Karlsson had a hand in all three Senators goals with two assists and the overtime game-winning tally against Minnesota. He certainly showed me.
Offensively, the Swede is just two points shy of his career best with 14 goals and 76 points in 76 games. Unless he drops off the score-sheet the rest of the way, this will be his best points-per-game season for sure. Karlsson leads the league in time-on-ice with a nightly average of 29:07 - almost none of which is spent in the defensive zone - and is a lock as a finalist for this year's Norris Trophy as the NHL's best defenseman. There, Erik, ya happy?