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Wilderness Walk: Stars Aligning

The Wild’s high-danger zone defense is a key to victory, Louis Belpedio refelects on his college career, and the playoff bubble teams continue to wage war for the postseason.

NHL: Minnesota Wild at Dallas Stars Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

Question for the Wilderness: should the Wild attempt to drop to the first wild card in order to avoid the Winnipeg Jets and Nashville Predators? The upside is pretty clear: the Wild would get an arguably easier path, taking on a Vegas Golden Knights team they’ve swept this season and then facing either the San Jose Sharks, the Los Angeles Kings, or the Anaheim Ducks. The downside is that with both the Colorado Avalanche and the resurgent St. Louis Blues both battling to make the playoffs, positioning for the wild card slot runs the risk of falling to the second wild card slot (leaving themselves worse off than if they stayed at third in the Central) or dropping out of the playoffs entirely.

I doubt any group of players in the NHL would be happy to deliberately lose, much less risk falling out of the playoffs at all. While both the Predators and the Jets have been difficult opponents for the Wild, the Wild have beaten both teams and mostly played close games in the losses (Jets blew out the Wild 7-2 once game). In fact, the Wild have won the series 3-1-1 with the Predators. I’m not suggesting either team would make for an easy series for the Wild, but I don’t think it’s quite as stacked against the Wild as many commentators have suggested. I would rather see the Wild close out the season on a run of strong play than go lukewarm but have the so-called good fortune to journey over to the Pacific Division for the playoffs. What do you think?

Wild News

Why is Wild winning more recently? This stat helps explain it -
The Wild's smart defensive strategy near the "high-danger" zones has minimized good shots on goal – and improved its win-loss record.

Wild-Dallas game preview -
The Stars (86 points) are in must-win territory, sitting five points from the final Western Conference playoff spot with five games remaining. The teams play two games in a row, with the rematch Saturday in Dallas.

With 40 goals in hand, Wild's Eric Staal closes in on franchise record
It was a bittersweet moment for Eric Staal standing in the visitor's locker room at Bridgestone Arena after Tuesday's 2-1 shootout loss to the Nashville Predators. Staal reached the 40-goal mark for the third time in his 14-year NHL career with a game-tying goal late in the third period, but the Wild ending up losing an important game to the Western Conference leaders.

On Frozen Pond

Following NCAA regional loss, Mavericks already looking forward | Sports |
Less than a week removed from his team’s season ending, Minnesota State men’s hockey coach Mike Hastings said he was already working on next year.

Tending the Fields

Louie Belpedio on End of His College Days; Adapting to the Pros | Zone Coverage - Cold Omaha
Louie Belpedio knew his time at the University of Miami (Ohio) was going to end, so he soaked up every last minute with the RedHawks he could. After four seasons, 135 games and 83 points, Belpedio's time with Miami came to an end at the hands of the St. Cloud State Huskies in the NCHC playoffs two-and-a-half weeks ago.

The Hunt

Ranking All the Stanley Cup Contenders | Yahoo! Sports

You could probably argue the Wild’s placement on this list if you wanted, but the description of their overall situation is spot-on.

Stanley Cup Playoff Push: Blues go from sellers to post-season threat -
The St. Louis Blues were deadline sellers four weeks ago, but with a surging offence and a goaltender taking back the top job, they might be peaking at the right time. That and more in today's look at the playoff race.

Off the Trail

31 Thoughts: Bowman believes 'more Cup runs' possible for Blackhawks -
Has the title window slammed shut on the Chicago Blackhawks? GM Stan Bowman doesn't buy the concept. That and more in the latest 31 Thoughts.

NHL Power Rankings: Season-Defining Decisions Edition -
In this week's NHL Power Rankings, we look back a pivotal decision made by each of the 31 teams that made a drastic impact on their season.

Power Rankings: High-flying Jets set franchise records and clinch playoff berth | The Hockey News
The Winnipeg Jets have rattled off six straight victories en route to setting a pair of franchise records and earning their first playoff berth since 2014-15. No team has risen as fast as the St. Louis Blues over the past week, though.

Stars’ disappointing season leaves more questions than answers about the future | The Hockey News
Despite bold off-season acquisitions making them a favorite in the West, the Stars are on the outside looking in with dwindling playoff chances as the season draws to a close. So, where does Dallas go next?