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Preview: Wild close out season with substantial test against Avalanche

Just playing the West’s best to finish the regular season.

NHL: MAR 27 Avalanche at Wild

It has been a hell of a ride. The Minnesota Wild have taken a journey this season — taking the path from a dark horse candidate, a quirky pest team that might be fun to cheer for, to a team that should be feared heading into these playoffs and has an incredibly bright future ahead of them.

Franchise records have been shattered multiple times, milestones have been met and conquered, and players have made debuts, developed, and grown to be powerhouses in their own right. Now, the playoffs are on the horizon and they get to face an incredibly difficult first-round opponent in the St. Louis Blues.

But before any of that takes place, they need to close out the regular season hosting the Colorado Avalanche.

Both teams have already solidified spots, the visitors have already achieved what they can, and have lost out on getting the President’s Trophy after the Florida Panthers were crowned the regular season champions on Thursday night. So, we might be in for a little bit of a slog between these two rivals. While it does make sense to hit the ground running in the first round, it has been an incredibly long season and getting an extra night off might not hurt for some specific players.

For the Avalanche, there might be some players absent, but some are still recovering from injuries and could use the warm-up.

In Minnesota, it it somewhat the same situation. Defensemen Jared Spurgeon and Matt Dumba will be returning to the lineup tonight and Jordan Greenway and Marcus Foligno continue their quasi rehab after getting back on the roster not too long ago. It will be a balancing act for the coaching staff, but if the players feel good, I don’t doubt that Dean Evason will want those guys getting loose and ready for next week.

Mats Zuccarello remains out with an injury, but some dudes have made their return.

Projected lineup:

Kirill Kaprizov—Ryan Hartman—Nick Bjugstad
Kevin Fiala—Frederick Gaudreau—Matt Boldy
Jordan Greenway—Joel Eriksson Ek—Marcus Foligno
Brandon Duhaime—Tyson Jost—Nicolas Deslauriers

Jake Middleton—Jared Spurgeon
Jonas Brodin—Matt Dumba
Dmitry Kulikov—Alex Goligoski/Jon Merrill

Marc-Andre Fleury is in between the pipes.

This is the first time in a very long time that the Wild’s blue line is back to full health and it couldn’t have come at a more dramatic time. Dumba and Spurgeon will give a significant boost to the Wild’s transition game and the offensive capabilities of this blue line, and just having less stress on the rest of the crew cannot be overemphasized as the playoffs loom.

It will either be stressful, or a fun one. Puck drop is at 7:00 p.m.

Burning Questions

Well...did the Wild clinch home ice?

It is the final night of the NHL regular season (sort of) and the puzzle pieces are falling into place. We should know by the end of this game, or just shortly after, who will have home-ice advantage heading into the first-round series between the St. Louis Blues and our very own Wild.

While it might not even mean that much — since Minnesota is obviously closing this one out in five or six — getting the control of line switches and all that fun tactical stuff for the first two games, can play in whoever’s hand it is that ends up with the home crowd for those two matches.

Let’s see how this plays out.

Does Fleury’s performance tell us anything about who will start Game 1?

There is only one real lineup decision that head coach Dean Evason will need to make heading into Game 1 next week — if everyone is healthy. Both netminders Marc-Andre Fleury and Cam Talbot have been on top of their game ever since the former was acquired before the trade deadline. A couple poor performances here and there, but overall it has been wonderful to see the Wild have above-average goaltending for once.

Now, with a back-to-back to close out the season and Talbot stopping 31 of the 33 shots he faced against the Calgary Flames, it is up to Fleury to put in a similar or better performance against the Avalanche to put his stamp on the starting role to begin the playoffs.

He might already have it, but it would be nice to just cement it with some very, very good play tonight.