Focus on Sports -- The Wild continue their playoff push
The Minnesota Wild, unlike the Timberwolves, are looking like they will make the playoffs this year. The Wild are currently 35-23-6, and are in the eighth and final playoff spot in the Western Conference with 76 points. They have a 10 point lead over the ninth place team, the Edmonton Oilers. The Wild are one point behind seventh place Calgary, who just beat the Wild Wednesday night, 2-1 in a shootout. They are only three points behind fifth place Dallas, so the Wild can certainly move up in the standings if they continue to win. The Wild are 9-4 in their last 13 games, with five of those wins coming on the road. Even though they lost in Calgary, the Wild did get one point in the standings and played well in a building where they historically have not. Calgary has owned the Wild in Calgary, going 9-0-1 since November, 2003. Calgary also has the best home record in the NHL this year, going 27-6-1.
The Wild have 18 regular season games left to play. A number of those games are against teams above them in the standings, so the Wild hold their own destiny to make the playoffs. They have four games left against Edmonton, with two of them coming at home in the final three games of the year. They have three games left against Calgary, with two of them at home. They also have two games left against division rivals Colorado and Vancouver. The Wild finish the year with eight of their last nine games at home. The Wild have played well at home, so the schedule should work in their favor. The Wild are currently 22-5-4 at the Xcel Energy Center.
Minnesota has played itself into playoff contention despite injuries to a number of their top players. Their best scorer, Marian Gaborik, has not even played in half the games this year due to a bad groin injury. Linemate Pavol Demitra missed some games, as has center Wes Walz. Goalie Manny Fernandez is out with a knee injury and has missed the past 14 games. Backup goalie Niklas Backstrom has been stellar in net, going 9-2-2 during this stretch. Unfortunately, he was injured in the Calgary game and may also miss some time. Third-string goalie Josh Harding played the last two periods against Calgary and looked pretty good. He will need to keep it up for the Wild to continue with this momentum if Backstrom cannot go.
The off season acquisitions made by the Wild are the reason they are poised to make the playoffs this year after missing them the last few years. Backstrom was one of those acquisitions. He was playing so well prior to his injury. He is 13-7-4 this year, with a 2.20 goals against average, which ranks eighth in the NHL. He was also named one of the players of the week in the NHL last week after winning three games. A number of teams have inquired about Backstrom's availability. The Wild are fortunate to have two good goalies on their roster going down the stretch. The Wild will make an effort to keep Backstrom after this year. Dimitra is the team's second leading scorer behind Brian Rolston, and Gaborik loves playing with him. Mark Parrish has struggled at times, but has 16 goals and 18 assists. He plays good defense and is a pest in front of the opponent's goal. Defenseman Keith Carney has been superb, playing every game and has a plus 14 rating, which leads the team.
The trading deadline has just passed. The Wild made no moves, so they are going with this group. A number of other teams in the Western Conference made moves, so time will tell if standing pat was the right decision. I like the Wild's chances to make the playoffs. Even if they are the eighth seed, they can do some damage. Good goaltending usually makes or breaks a team in the playoffs. Hot goaltenders can carry a team a long way. Backstrom and Fernandez can dominate games, and either one of them could carry the Wild. The team continues to win close games, and are 10-5 in shootouts. Center Mikko Koivu leads the NHL with 8 shootout goals and defenseman Petteri Nummelin has six. Since the Wild typically do not score a lot of goals, winning shootouts will be critical to their success. Hopefully they both will be healthy at playoff time.