It took a lot longer than they would have hoped, but the Minnesota Wild clinched a berth in the Stanley Cup Playoffs on Saturday.
Although they lost 4-2 to the Vancouver Canucks, the Wild qualified for the playoffs for the fifth straight season when the Los Angeles Kings lost to the New York Rangers 3-0 in regulation. Despite losing nine of their past 11 games and falling behind the Chicago Blackhawks in the Central Division after occupying the top spot for most of the season, the Wild are in.
Under coach Bruce Boudreau, who was hired in the offseason, Minnesota won a franchise-best 12 straight games starting on Nov. 29, and had a 21-3-1 stretch to seemingly take control of the Central Division.
But their late-season slump allowed Chicago to take an eight-point division lead entering Sunday.
Still, expectations are high in Minnesota following last season when they used a second-half push to make the playoffs before losing in six games to the Dallas Stars in the first round. The Wild have been past the second round of the playoffs once (2003, conference final) and are hoping this season is different.
Here are five reasons the Wild clinched a playoff berth:
1. New coach, new system
Boudreau was hired on May 7, one week after he was fired by the Anaheim Ducks, and has turned Minnesota into an all-around team, rather than one that relies only on defense and winning low-scoring games.
The Wild rank third in the League in goals per game (3.18) and seventh in goals against per game (2.50). They've allowed two goals or fewer 38 times this season including five shutouts. They've also scored four or more goals in 24 games.
Boudreau brought with him a winning pedigree; he has won a division title in each of his eight full seasons as coach (Washington Capitals, 2007-11; Ducks 2012-16).
2. Devan Dubnyk
Dubnyk is among the League leaders in all goaltending categories including wins (37), goals-against average (2.17), save percentage (.927) and shutouts (five). He was a Vezina Trophy finalist in the 2014-15 season and likely will be again. Since Minnesota acquired him on Jan. 25, 2015, Dubnyk is 96-54-11 with a 2.14 goals-against average, .925 save percentage and 15 shutouts.
Dubnyk has started 58 games. Backup Darcy Kuemper has seven wins in 16 starts and a 3.26 goals-against average.
Video: PHI@MIN: Dubnyk snags Voracek's big slapper
3. Eric Staal's resurgence
Eric Staal had 39 points (13 goals, 26 assists) in 83 games last season with the Carolina Hurricanes and New York Rangers and many wondered if his best days were behind him. The Minnesota Wild are glad they signed Staal to a three-year contract prior to the season. Staal, 32, has 57 points (25 goals, 32 assists) in 74 games, including 14 power-play points and seven game-winning goals.
Staal is a plus-10, his highest since he was a plus-15 with the Hurricanes in 2008-09. His 13.3 shooting percentage is also his highest since he shot 16.1 percent (45 goals on 279 shots) in 2005-06. He's playing in all situations and has shown great chemistry with linemates Zach Parise (17 goals, 19 assists) and Charlie Coyle (17 goals, 32 assists).
Video: VAN@MIN: Staal beats Bachman after fortuitous bounce
4. Mikael Granlund's breakout
Mikael Granlund leads the Wild in goals (25) assists (41) and points (66) to go along with 19 power-play points. Granlund had 44 points (13 goals, 31 assists) in 82 games last season. Granlund had a 12-game point streak from Jan. 12-Feb. 1 (two goals, 11 assists) and has gone more than two games without a point once (four games; Nov. 26-Dec. 4).
His line, which includes Jason Zucker (21 goals, 25 assists) and Mikku Koivu (18 goals, 35 assists), could have each player score at least 20 goals and 50 points and has been one of the most productive lines in the League this season.
Video: MIN@WPG: Granlund redirects Koivu's feed for PPG
5. Scoring depth
In addition to their top two lines, the Wild can count on their third line of Martin Hanzal, Nino Niederreiter and Jason Pominville to provide scoring. The top eight goal-scorers on the Wild consist of their top nine forwards with the exception of Hanzal.
When you include their top three offensive defensemen, Ryan Suter (37 points), Jared Spurgeon (32 points) and Matt Dumba (31 points), Minnesota has 11 players who have scored at least 30 points with the team this season. That depth is what has made them as much of a scoring threat as they have been.
Video: SJS@MIN: Dumba goes top shelf for PPG