As The NHL playoffs start to become more than a speck on the horizon of a long 82 game season, the Wild find themselves front and center in the playoff picture. On Wednesday night the Wild recaptured first place in the northwest division by defeating the red-hot Edmonton Oilers, who are now 7-3 in their last ten games. The Oilers spanked the Wild pretty badly up in Edmonton on Monday night;
the game was not as close as the 5-3 score would indicate as the Oilers were up 3-0 early in the first. On Wednesday the Wild looked like a completely different team, playing in front of their home crowd they jumped on the Oilers early and completely dominated them for the first two periods of play.
The Wild seem to not have any health issues as they get ready to go into the playoffs, a few names clutter up the day-to-day injury report but with the exception of Kurtis Foster (out for season) the Wild appear to be very healthy. Coach Jacques Lemaire looks to have good chemistry going between his lines as well. I don’t know if you can really say they have a number 1 line but if one had to pick it would most likely be the Gaborik, Radivojevic, Bouchard line. Gaborik looks to be 100% healthy right now and the line played very on Wednesday last night, notching the team’s first tally and maintaining solid pressure throughout the game. The number 2 line, again I feel like these two are pretty interchangeable, is the Rolston, Koivu, Demitra line. Koivu looks like he’s coming back very nicely from the injury and Demitra looks to be the perfect complement to Rolston, constantly looking to feed the cannon. It seemed like Wednesday night Lemaire mixed up the checking lines throughout the night, though Parish, Belenger, and Voros received the most ice time as the third line, rookie James Sheppard, and veteran Todd Fedoruk also rotated through. The Boogey Man saw his normal 5-6 minutes of ice and was involved in a good tilt with Zack Stortini immediately after the Wild scored their first goal. I like this lineup for the Wild. I think the other forwards who were healthy scratches can fill in very nicely in place of most of the other checking line players, but Wednesday’s lineup was very solid. I also love the addition of Chris Simon, an agitator very good at getting under opponents’ skin, to the roster and a great player to have on your team during the playoffs. The Blue liners look pretty solid; Burns has continued what he started at the end of last season and is one of the team’s key contributors, especially on the PP. Carney labors around out there a little but is as cagey as they come and will bring a lot of experience to the playoffs. Nummelin and Johnsson continue to be solid and Hill has filled in nicely for the injured Foster, he has four points in the last 4 games.
If the Wild can continue to play like they did on Wednesday night they have a serious shot to do well in the playoffs. They have been involved in many low scoring, close games this season which I feel is a big positive as most of the games played in April, May, and June are usually one or two goal games. If Minnesota can hold their position and win the central division they will be the third seed in the Western Conference and play Calgary, Dallas, Colorado, or Vancouver. Three of these teams are in the Wild’s own division (Northeast) and are teams the Wild are very familiar with. Five points separate Minnesota from Vancouver in the standings, and with five games to play anything can happen. Anaheim, San Jose, and Detroit would all be unlucky first round match-ups. San Jose is surging right now (8-0-2 in their last ten), Detroit is Detroit (8-2-0 in their last ten), and Anaheim is 15-5 in their last 20. They also added Selanne and Scott Niedermayer to the roster midway through the season. The best match-up for the wild would be to play a club from the northeast. Jerome Iginla has torched the Wild for more points than he has against any other team this season (10 in 7 games) and it just seems the Wild don’t match up well with the Flames. Colorado, Vancouver, and Dallas would all present a similar match-up for the Wild and would give them the best chance of moving on to the second round.
The bottom line is that in the NHL playoffs anyone can beat anyone on any given night. The playoffs are often described as a second season simply because they last three months and are unbelievably grueling. The Wild have put themselves in a very good position right now and are paying very well as they finish off the stretch run and enter the playoffs. They have a balanced team and solid goaltending, the perfect recipe for a repeat the 2003 playoff run.