Seven teams in the Western Conference have clinched a playoff spot. The second and final wild card spot is still up for grabs, but only just. The Minnesota Wild currently occupy that slot with a 38-31-11 record and 87 points. The only team left in the hunt, the Colorado Avalanche (82 points), have to remain perfect in their final three games to have a shot at the postseason. The playoffs are all but guaranteed for the Wild at this point, but this is Minnesota we're talking about - anything can happen as this team doesn't seem to like doing things the easy way.
This Week's Schedule
Tuesday, April 5th - Minnesota Wild vs San Jose Sharks 7:00 PM CT (FS-N)
Saturday, April 9th - Minnesota Wild vs Calgary Flames 6:00 PM CT (FS-N, CITY)
Game of the Week
This one is up in the air. San Jose has clinched and will be a tough test, but Calgary's game is a must-win if the Wild can't come away from Tuesday night with a "W" AND Colorado pulls off a miracle. Plus, this will very likely be the final game of long-time Wild netminder Niklas Backstrom's NHL career, and he'll most likely receive the start against his old team.
Key Player of the Week
If there was a positive to be found in Sunday night's Canadian thrashing in the 'Peg, it was that Mikael Granlund needs to see more time on the wing. He's a creative player, and has started shooting and finding the back of the net more consistently. In 80 games this season, the once hailed savior of the franchise has collected a career-best 13 goals and 44 points, and has contributed biscuits at even strength, on the man advantage and while shorthanded. The young Finn has looked good to the right of captains Mikko Koivu and Zach Parise, and could see a boost in offensive numbers playing a role that requires less responsibility. If nothing else, the 11-9-64 line was the only line that looked relatively consistent and dangerous against the speedy, bruising Jets.
Key Opponent of the Week
You know him, he was your favorite character in the new Star Wars movie - that's right - the Wookiee returns to St. Paul in the form of hulking San Jose Sharks defenseman/power forward Brent Burns! The bearded wonder has been just that with the Pacific Division Sharks, wowing opposing players, teammates, coaches, management and fans alike with 27 goals, 74 points, a negative-5 rating, seven power play goals, 29 power play points, four game-winning goals and 344 shots on goal in 79 games this season. It is by far the best season of a career that only seemed to explode after the Wild traded him to San Jose for Charlie Coyle (seriously, he might as well have been it) at the 2011 NHL Entry Draft.
There are a lot of great defensemen in the NHL, but if any of them are worth Norris consideration (after Erik Karlsson, of course), it's the 6'5" 230-pound Burns. He's big, he's fast and strong on both sides of the puck, has a great first pass, and a howitzer of a shot. And the beard. Don't even get me started on the beard. Ladies and gentlemen, your KO of the Week.