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ST. PAUL… The Minnesota Wild have shutout the Edmonton Oilers here this eve by a 3-0 final. And in so doing, coupled with STL Blues and Colorado Avalanche losses, the club has earned another spot in the Stanley Cup Playoff tournament. The tilt this evening was unremarkable for the most part outside of former UMD Bulldog standout defenseman Carson Soucy getting his first NHL start after being called up from the Iowa Wild. The 6’5” D-man acquitted himself well, playing a simple style while not attempting to inject himself into the flow unless there was clear cut opportunity to do so, opting for a mistake-free game and pulling that off well. Soucy was brought up by the big club utilizing an emergency callup provision due to the loss of their #1 D-man Ryan Suter due to injury, and I’ll offer more on that in a bit.
With the club having secured their playoff position with the victory, they will depart Tuesday for a 3-game roadie to the West Coast for the Cali trifecta. They will go back to back with Anaheim and then the LA Kings on Wednesday and Thursday, and then up to San Jose for a Saturday evening regular season finale. The Wild are 1-1 against the Duck this year, 0-2 versus the Kings and 2-0 over the Sharks. By earning one more point within one of the next three games the team can secure 3rd place in the Central division and avoid possibly going in as a Wild Card team. The way it stands now the team will matchup with the Winnipeg Jets, who have secured 2nd place in the division. The Jets had the upper hand in the regular season series between the two, going 3-1, featuring two one goal victories, one blowout win and a 4-1 loss in St. Paul.
There is a certain element within the Wild fan base that are pushing a one playoff series and done theory. I observe them on social media and within reader comment sections attached to team articles and gamers and mostly shake my head at some of the opinion. When I contemplate the potential fortunes of the team or lack thereof, especially if I am going to write about it, I try my best to remove the emotion and be objective. I’m neither cheerleader nor gloom and doomer. And considering that, it’s hard to say that this year’s edition of the Wild aren’t enigmatic to say the least but are certainly better then some of the anti-Wild fans seem to think they are. I’ve already chronicled their regular season travail’s in previous columns this season. There are a solid ten games or so where the team has appeared to be totally absent, got blown out and lost two valuable points in games you thought they could have been the victors in. There are 4 games that they lost to NHL bottom feeder style of teams that are nothing short of eyebrow raisers that make you wonder if the doubters aren’t right in their opinions of the team. So, I get the doubt, but it isn’t far-fetched to think that the Wild could meet Winnipeg and win the series. They could and here’s why.
After the original Jets departed for Phoenix after the 1995-96 season, they were reincarnated after the flailing Atlanta Thrashers relocated to The Peg to become the new Jets. They began play in the 2011-12 season. Prior to this season they have had only one SC playoff appearance and were swept in that one 4 games to none, losing to the Ducks. That was four seasons back, making this current group inexperienced as far as playoffs go. Their number one netminder, Conner Hellebuyck, has a mere 147 games of NHL experience behind him with no playoff games to his credit. He sports a 2.57 career GAA with a .916 career SP%. The Wild could exploit this. The bulk of the Jet ultimate core group has no playoff experience together, and remember, the SC playoffs are played at a whole other level then the regular season is. You can’t deny though, the quality of the Jets regular season campaign. They are currently 3rd in GF (262), 5th in GA (210), 4th in PP% (23.5%), 10th on the PK (81.5%) and have improved this season in penalty minutes against, coming in at 15th. They sport one of the best home records in the NHL at 30-9 but are vulnerable on the road at 19-21. Like all teams at this point in the season they have important players that aren’t at 100% and that could be a factor. Forward Mark Schiefele is their best player with health concerns at the moment.
The Wild are currently 11th in GF (239), 11th in GA (218), 15th on the PP (20.4%), 14th on the PK (80.8%) and have accumulated the 12th least amount of PIMS with 656. The Wild also have a top home record going 27-14 while needing to bolster their away abilities going 17-21. When it comes to playoff experience, Cup winners and so on, the edge goes to the Wild. Wild netminder Devan Dubnyk appeared in his 400th NHL game tonight giving the Wild the experience factor there. Behind the bench Winnipeg Head Coach Paul Maurice gets the nod in Games coached, and in overall playoff experience. With both coaches having coached in 9 playoffs, Maurice has taken a club to an SC Final and a Conference Final while Boudreau has yet to advance a club beyond the 2nd round. I see this series as being closer then others think and in my final analysis if the Wild protect home ice, all they have to do is win 1 road game…
RYAN SUTER is one of the best defensemen in the NHL. He was lost for the season Saturday during a game versus Dallas with the Stars gaining a 4-1 win. Suter suffered a broken fibula in the 2nd period. After testing on Monday, medical staff concluded that a surgical repair is necessary ending Suters season no matter how long the team’s playoffs last. The online backlash against Suter was immediate. It was grating to me because I know what he means to the overall team game the Wild play and I understand what he brings to the ice on an individual basis. Let’s say I was taken aback by the number of “fans” chastising him and stating that he wasn’t any good as a player. One even went on to say that he has a “bad attitude”. How clueless must you be when your opinion runs counter to every expert in the game? Suter will be missed. If Jared Spurgeon comes off IR for the tourney that will help level out the loss, that and perhaps a major increase in puck possession time. I’m hoping. PEACE