After squandering a three goal lead to a team considered to be one of the worst in the NHL, the Minnesota Wild are in jeopardy of losing a spot in playoffs. Anyone who watched the game on Tuesday saw the lead evaporate after defensive breakdowns and a powerplay that failed to execute after given every opportunity to put the dagger into the Oilers. The Wild now have several teams nipping at their heels in the Western Conference and a difficult road schedule looming.
The Dallas Stars, who began the Wild’s current 3 game losing streak with a 4-3 win on Saturday, are trailing by just 3 points for the 7th seed in the playoffs. The Stars players also have inspiration on their side after Rich Peverley collapsed due to a heart condition against the Columbus Blue Jackets. Behind Dallas sits the Phoenix Coyotes who are 4 points behind. Phoenix has flown under the radar for much of the season, as they usually do, and are hungry to return to the playoffs after missing last season.
The Wild’s situation this year looks all too familiar to fans who watched a near collapse in last year’s shortened season. After a 6-1 loss late in the season to the same Edmonton Oilers, Minnesota looked as though they would relinquish the final position in the playoffs. Fortunately, they managed to limp their way into the playoffs by winning the last game of the season. The frustrated Wild faithful accepted the mediocre stretch run and looked to this year for the team to make the leap and become elite. Unfortunately, that same inconsistent play flooded over to this season.
At times, and even recently during a 5 game win streak after the Olympic break, Minnesota has looked like a potential Cinderella in this year’s playoffs. The signature of this team has long been to play to the level of its competition and this year is no exception. They seem to lack the killer instinct that you see in the elite teams of the league. For example, Minnesota was a mere 8 points behind the Colorado Avalanche for the 5th seed when March began. With optimism abound for Wild fans, Colorado simply turned it to another level and separated themselves from the pack. Two weeks ago, there was talk of catching the Avalanche. Now, there is talk of missing the playoffs.
The remaining schedule won’t get any easier for the Wild prior to the playoffs. Minnesota is coming up on 8 of 10 games on the road and complete the season with games against Chicago, Pittsburgh, Boston and St. Louis in April. Obviously, the team can’t look that far ahead in the schedule, but it would be nice to see this team create a couple more points of buffer prior to the next month when the going gets very difficult.