…And just like that, the Wild put themselves back into the playoff race.
Just when you thought Minnesota was ready to roll over and call it a season, it comes out and actually puts a pretty good performance together—AND ON HOME ICE!—to take down the Rangers in a 5-2 no-doubter. Granted the Blueshirts aren’t all that good, but still, pretty much everybody in green played well and found a way to contribute to the victory.
Entering play Sunday, Minnesota is back to within two points of the Arizona Coyotes, who hold the final wild card spot but lost Saturday in overtime to Edmonton. The Wild are also within three points of the Dallas Stars for the top wild card spot, so this thing isn’t over just yet, Wilderness.
Here’s what we learned from Saturday’s win.
Thing 1: Ryan Donato Loves Playing Against the Rangers
After being acquired from Boston for Charlie Coyle, Donato’s first game in a Wild uniform was played against New York at Madison Square Garden. That night, he was a huge contributor in helping get Minnesota out of its losing rut with two assists, three shots, and almost 17 minutes of ice time. Saturday, after being held pointless in five of his last six games, and with the Wild in another rut, Donato again came up huge with his team’s first two goals and six shots during the course of the game.
Donato’s dad, Ted, did play a season for the Rangers, so perhaps he just likes rubbing it in his old man’s face. With that in mind, I can’t wait to see what he can do against the Bruins on April 4th, with whom Ted played parts of eight seasons, and with whom Ryan started his still fledgling NHL career.
Donato has been streaky since coming over from the B’s, so perhaps Saturday’s performance will spark him again.
Thing 2: Shooting the Puck Is Good
Minnesota absolutely peppered Henrik Lundqvist on Saturday with 46 shots on net in total and 76 shot attempts according to naturalstattrick.com. From that site’s heat map, it’s plain to see that in addition to just putting pucks on net, the Wild were finding some pretty prime ice in front of the Swedish dreamboat.
What really stuck out to me was the rush attempts that resulted in goals. On Donato’s first goal, Pontus Aberg picked off a pass in Minnesota’s zone, and he and Donato rushed through the neutral zone on a clear two-on-one. Donato received the puck at the redline, then carried it all the way into the zone. He sort of looked like he was going to dish it back to Aberg, but instead reminded us that shooters shoot, and just rifled it over Lundqvist’s blocker.
On the second two-on-one that produced a tally, Eric Staal rushed in with Zach Parise on his left. In more traditional Wild fashion, Staal did the wrong thing by trying to force a goalmouth pass through a sliding Neal Pionk and under Lundqvist. Ironically, Pionk spun around and deflected the puck through Lundqvist, turning the pass into a shot and a Minnesota goal.
Even when the Wild weren’t trying to shoot Saturday, they were still shooting, and good things were happening.
Getting a lot of shots on net and getting a lot of goals... That doesn’t seem like a coincidence.
Thing 3: The Wild Must Play Like This Again
This is it for the Wild.
With just ten games remaining and a two-point deficit for the final playoff spot, there is no longer any margin for error and simply no time for any other ruts. Of their remaining ten games, nine of their opponents (Colorado is the exception) are currently in the playoffs. With a remaining schedule like that, Bruce Boudreau has to find a way to get everybody contributing every night, exactly the way he did Saturday against the Rangers.
Sunday’s game against the impressive Islanders will be a huge test to see if these guys have actually figured it out, or if the win over the unimpressive Rangers was an anomaly.