Fans of the Minnesota Wild can rejoice -- Stanley Cup Playoffs hockey is back following four consecutive non-playoff years.
After the heart-pounding finish that was needed to qualify, which included a one-goal victory in the season's final game to hold off the hard-charging Columbus Blue Jackets for the final spot in the Western Conference, Minnesota will look to advance beyond the quarterfinal round for the second time in 10 seasons.
SOG: 182 | +/-: 2
No team will be an easy out in the playoffs, and the Wild have the makeup of a team that could fashion a long and prosperous run if it plays its cards right. The new faces brought in prior to the season and at the NHL Trade Deadline have created a new attitude on the ice and in the locker room.
In previous seasons, the Wild would traditionally start out strong but fizzle down the stretch. That wasn't the case this season when the club really had to put the pedal to the metal in order to earn a playoff berth.
Not only do the Wild have their own captain in Mikko Koivu, but two former captains from other teams, left wing Zach Parise (New Jersey Devils) and right wing Jason Pominville (Buffalo Sabres). The hope is all three players will steer the offensive ship in the absence of injured forward Dany Heatley.
Parise helped lead the Devils to the Stanley Cup Final last season and was sorely missed in New Jersey. Consider the fact the Devils had basically the same team, minus Parise, and failed to qualify for the playoffs. Defensively, the Wild are led by summer acquisition Ryan Suter, inspired by rookie Jonas Brodin and bolstered by goalie Niklas Backstrom.
Now they will hope to emulate the path taken by the No. 8 seed in the Western Conference last season, the Los Angeles Kings. Yes, the team that endured a roller-coaster season, qualified at the last-possible moment and used that momentum to win four series as an underdog.
Sound familiar Wild fans? It should!