Playoff matchups have officially been set. The Minnesota Wild claimed the 7th seed in the Western Conference playoffs after a strong stretch run that saw the team competing against some of the top teams in the NHL. With much uncertainty about whom the opponent would be, Colorado edged the St. Louis Blues to clinch the Central Division title and grabbed the 2nd seed and set up a series with its division rivals. The strong stretch run was just one of several reasons the Wild will be competing in the NHL’s “second season”.
Much of this season’s success can be attributed to the many goalies the Wild used. Strong performances by the five goalies that saw time in the crease highlighted the strong defensive season Minnesota had. Beginning with Josh Harding’s impressive couple of months, the Wild have gotten more than it could have asked for all season. From Darcy Kuemper’s emergence as a potential starting goalie in the future to Ilya Bryzgalov reviving his career, the Minnesota Wild owes much of its success to its goalies. Goaltending coach Bob Mason, who has been with the Minnesota Wild since its inaugural season, has truly proven his worth this season.
A second bright spot that vaulted the Wild into the playoffs was the coming of age of its young roster. Mikael Granlund looks like a budding superstar while Charlie Coyle’s performance of late has been nothing short of spectacular. The contribution from young players extends to every position. Jonas Brodin followed up his fantastic rookie campaign with another strong season. Justin Fontaine and Erik Haula have solidified their place on the NHL roster by doing everything the team has asked of them. Even Jared Spurgeon, 24, has turned into a legitimate offensive threat at the blue line.
Finally, the Minnesota Wild would not be in the position it is without Ryan Suter. The Norris Trophy candidate has been nearly flawless all season. His ability to be a workhorse night in and night out cannot be overlooked. He has consistently played 30 minutes per game and been the premier defensive defenseman that the Wild needed when it signed him last offseason. Without Ryan Suter, the Wild would be a completely different team.
As with any team in the league, Minnesota was forced to deal with adversity at many points this season. The way the Wild have dealt with that adversity must continue into the playoffs. Having responded to the ups and downs during the regular season bodes well for what the team will see during the first round of the playoffs and beyond.