One win away from clinching a playoff berth, the Minnesota Wild are aiming much higher than that. The first division title in franchise history would be a good starting point.
The Wild look to secure a spot in the postseason and extend their Northwest Division lead Sunday when they host one of their closest pursuers - the Colorado Avalanche.
|The Minnesota Wild can clinch a playoff berth with a victory over their Northwest Division-rival Colorado Avalanche this evening. (AP Photo/Jim Mone)|
Minnesota (42-28-9) currently sits atop the league's tightest division, holding a three-point lead over both Calgary and Colorado (42-31-6). The Wild and Avalanche each have three games remaining while the Flames have four.
After this contest, Minnesota hosts Calgary on Thursday before visiting Colorado in its regular-season finale on April 6.
Although the Wild endured a five-game losing streak (0-2-3) earlier this month, they have managed to pick up at least one point in nine of their last 11 contests (5-2-4).
"The end is coming, and we need the guys to be at their best," Minnesota coach Jacques Lemaire said.
Behind another strong performance from Niklas Backstrom, the Wild coasted to a 4-0 victory over slumping Vancouver on Friday.
Backstrom stopped 28 shots for his fourth shutout of the season and his franchise-record 31st victory. He is 5-0-1 with a 1.39 goals-against average and two shutouts in his last seven starts, and hasn't lost in regulation in nine consecutive appearances (5-0-4).
"I feel OK out there, but it goes with the team," Backstrom said. "When you know the team is playing well, then it's easier for everybody."
Backstrom usually plays his best toward the end of the season, another positive sign for a Minnesota team that has matched a season high with four straight home wins. He is 16-2-6 with a 1.62 GAA in his career in games played after March 1.
Backstrom has also fared very well against the Avalanche in his two-year career, going 6-1-1 with a 2.09 GAA.
Minnesota has been succeeding lately without much production from leading scorers Marian Gaborik and Pierre-Marc Bouchard. Gaborik has no goals in his last five games while Bouchard's goal Friday was his first in 19 games.
Gaborik has no goals in four games this season versus the Avs after scoring nine times in his previous nine contests against them.
Colorado (42-31-6) notched two huge points Friday in its quest to return to the playoffs, rallying for a 5-4 shootout victory over visiting Edmonton.
Captain Joe Sakic scored with 5.9 seconds left in regulation, then added the decisive goal in the shootout as the Avalanche tied Calgary for sixth in the West and moved four points ahead of Vancouver, Nashville and Edmonton.
"The point was like a win, and capping it off with the extra point was gigantic," coach Joel Quenneville said.
Andrew Brunette tallied two goals and an assist, and Peter Forsberg had three assists for the second straight game for Colorado, which has won three straight after losing four in a row.
"We knew if we won this one we put ourselves in pretty good shape," Sakic said. "We still have to go on the road and play well. And hopefully we can get two points out of the game at Minnesota and make a race out of the division, as well."
The Wild are 4-2-0 this season against the Avalanche, including 3-0-0 at home. Minnesota has earned at least one point in eight straight home meetings with Colorado (6-0-2).