The Minnesota Wild would have to do something terribly catastrophic in order not to get into the playoffs at this point. Even if there are teams hot on the tail, or in fact even with them in points, in the central division, there is enough room for this to succeed and achieve at least one of the main goals of playing in a professional hockey league. Unless they lose and the rest of the Devil’s teams win – I have not checked whether this is possible or not, I am not good at it – the Wilds will go into the off-season.
Who will they face in the crucial first round? There are still some options in the air and while itis far greater than others, we should really weigh all options.
So here is a ranking of each potential opponents (again, have not checked if they can still play against each other in real life, but it feels possible) from the top is a push over the baby series, to break out in nervous sweat every time the puck is touched.
1. Dallas Stars
The stars can be a strange choice as easiest the opponent, given that Wild are 1-2-0 against them so far this season, but that was before they solidified their blue line, added some more scoring depth and got the best goalkeeper available by the trade deadline. Given that Stars in those two losses were not even able to crack the 30-shot mark against this team, these concerns about recent history should be clarified. And even diving deeper into those losses, one of them was when Joel Eriksson Ek was injured in the middle of the match and only played eight minutes, Jared Spurgeon was absent and Matt Boldy was not even on the team yet. It was another part of the season and I will definitely come up with any excuse to feel it.
By somethe Wild has only an eight percent chance of meeting the stars, but it is still the third-highest; now only if the Predators and Blues can start sucking so we can enjoy some time in Dallas.
2. Calgary Flames
I’m not even sure if this is possible (wow what a theme for this blog). The Flames will definitely end up in the top spot in the Pacific Division, and that would mean that the Wild slides down to the first wild card spot, which from Saturday is six points below where they currently are. With 12 games left, it is certainly possible, although it would feel downright awful to do so in the latter part of the season, but meeting the Flames instead of some other options may be worth it in the long run.
Don’t get me wrong, Calgary has suddenly turned into a possession powerhouse that will work you to the bone, and then they have one of the better goalkeepers between the tubes, for the rare chances their blue line gets hit. But like Nashville, Erik Gudbranson and Nikita Zadorov play many damn minutes, and both of these guys may not be able to handle the north-south intensity that Wild Forecheck possesses.
Much of the Flames’ attack has come from their top line of Johnny Gaudreau, Elias Lindholm and Matthew Tkachuk. Like an overwhelming amount. They surpass their opponents by over 70 percent and they have both an expected target share and a shot attempt share of over 60 percent. It just sounds like a job for The GREEF Line to do and completely invalidate their one significant offensive weapon.
3. Nashville Predators
Predators are a tough call. In theory, if we are to accept the only proof we have of competitions between these two teams this season, then Wild will be swept away as they have not won a victory against this annoying list. We can dampen all the excuses we want – absence due to injuries, terrible performances from certain players, etc. – but there is just something about playing against a team that depends so much on a player like Roman Josi to provide which any amount offensive that could be revealed in the playoffs.
Every little detail is put into focus and picked apart in the off-season, so given that Nashville head coach John Hynes gives minutes from real life to players like Ben Harpur, Jeremy Lauzon and Matt Benning, that means at least 10 to 15 minutes , when Minnesota will have the big favor in every single game. It means a little more at that point. They are annoying but easy to expose.
4. Colorado Avalanche
I can not even begin to imagine a scenario where Wild ends up in the second wild card slot and has to face the dreaded avalanche. Is there any realistic way to Blues, Predators, and Stars, would anyone end up over our favorite hockey club? Maybe, but I do not want to imagine it.
If that happens then I would, as everyone rightly is, be afraid of being in a seven-match series with the damn team. Could Wild have a chance to fight? Hell yes. They probably have the best chance out of any other team in Central to knock out the avalanche. They can at least dampen a line of their wonderful attacks, but there will be Nazem Kadri (whose healthy), Artturi Lehkonen, Valeri Nichushkin or Alex Newhook who will rightly be trusted to score some goals. Oh, and they also have the fourth overall choice, Bowen Byram back to full health after his concussion and head coach Jared Bednar has got him to play with Norris favorite Cale Makar to create yet more insult. Because the defender, who currently has 25 goals, needs to generate more of that.
5. St. Louis Blues
The most likely opponent is also the more fearsome, for me personally. There’s just something about how eerily similar these two teams are that makes them bang their heads together, and the one who gets the luckiest row – whether it’s a penalty call, goalkeeping or just rejections of some pucks – ends up winning the game. The Winter Classic game doesn’t really count, so all we realistically have to tell between these two teams this season is Friday’s 4-3 overtime loss, with Wild holding a 3-1 lead and just falling on his ass.
And predictably, Minnesota had an advantage in most underlying measurements, but only slightly. If it were not for a couple of gaffers, then the result would be a whole different one; but those things happen in the playoffs too, so we can not wash them away completely.
Both Blues and Wild are deeply foreign with a lot of two-way players, have very stable defensive players who can play in all situations, and some exciting young talents who will give them a kind of boost beyond the established stars. The only thing that can be different is the players between the tubes at each end. Jordan Binnington is officially approaching washed-up territory, and Ville Husso has an incredible first full season in the NHL, but is ultimately unproven. The Wild is completely different. They did not get any Husso-like magic from their two netminders, so they got one of the most experienced names they could get in Marc-Andre Fleury and will depend on his ability with three rings to deliver a strong post-season performance. Whether it succeeds remains to be seen, but I would be much more confident in the future Hall-of-Famer, who has proven to still be very good in the few appearances he has had.
If it ends up being a series, it will be a bloodbath and not even on the ice as I will be pulling hair from my scalp in a fit of anxiety.
Maybe I’m wrong, so let’s hear your location if you’re so clever.