Alright, everybody can step away from the ledge now. After surrendering leads to the Phoenix Coyotes and Los Angeles Kings, the Minnesota Wild pulled out 2 points in each of its most important games of the season thus far. Unfortunately, the victories did not come without a price. Two young forwards were unable to complete the game against the Kings and their absence leaves a gaping hole in the lines.
Minnesota stepped on the ice and immediately looked a lethargic team against the Phoenix Coyotes. With few scoring chances, it looked as though they were on their way towards surrendering the 7th playoff spot and was in jeopardy of missing altogether. In the third period, Minnesota erupted for 3 goals and looked nothing like it did in the first. A pair of goals for Zach Parise paced the comeback and provided a slight cushion in the playoff race.
The game Monday night against Los Angeles was certain to prove more difficult as the Kings entered with a six-game winning streak. After surrendering another lead going into the third period despite outplaying Los Angeles, another offensive surge propelled the Wild to a victory in regulation. Matt Moulson tied the game and Mikko Koivu scored the winner nearly a minute later. A late flurry was held off by goaltender Ilya Bryzgalov and he earned the win in both games. Bryzgalov seems to be improving after some dreadful play recently. Another impressive tidbit about Monday’s victory was that the Kings entered the game 130-2-11 in their last 143 games when leading after two periods.
While the Wild won Monday night, the team also lost in the form of injuries. The severity of the injuries is unknown at this point, but both Nino Niederreiter and Mikael Granlund left the game with apparent head injuries and did not return. Niederreiter stumbled back to the bench after being blasted in the neutral zone by Jake Muzzin. Video of the hit can be seen here. Granlund was slow to get up after he tried to hit Jarret Stoll.
The loss of the two talented forwards means others will need to step up and play big minutes while they recover. Erik Haula was the temporary Band-Aid on the second line for Granlund Monday. No one can replace the passing ability of Granlund, but Haula will bring an element of speed and tenacity to the line if he remains there. The loss of Niederreiter likely means that the $7.5 million dollar scratch Dany Heatley will get another opportunity. Where exactly his place will be in the lineup is a mystery at this point.
The Wild did itself a lot of favors by walking away with victories in its past two games. Now 5 points up on Phoenix and 6 on Dallas, there is more breathing room. The schedule remains tough through the end of the regular season with only 6 games remaining. The way things look right now, two more wins would get Minnesota to 93 points and likely clinch the 7th spot in the playoffs.