Bruce Boudreau guaranteed the Minnesota Wild will qualify for the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
"I can tell you right now; I'm not Joe Namath, but we are going to make the playoffs," the Wild coach told host Paul Allen during an interview with KFAN in Minneapolis on Thursday. "And we're going to be somebody hard to deal with ... I'm making that prediction right now."
The Wild (27-25-5) hold the second wild card into the playoffs from the Western Conference; they are two points behind the St. Louis Blues and two ahead of the Vancouver Canucks. Minnesota is 1-4-2 since its mandatory five-day break following the 2019 NHL All-Star Game, including a 5-4 loss to the Philadelphia Flyers at Xcel Energy Center on Tuesday to open a four-game homestand.
"We thought we did a lot of things to win," Boudreau said. "The second period was frustrating, but when we made it 4-3, I thought we were on track. Two bad plays from us, the line change terrible, then we take a penalty late ...."
Minnesota hosts the New Jersey Devils on Friday (8 p.m. ET; FS-N, FS-WI, MSG+, NHL.TV) and plays the Blues at home on each of the next two Sundays before the 2019 NHL Trade Deadline on Feb. 25 at 3 p.m. ET. The Wild have qualified for the playoffs the past six seasons but haven't made it past the Western Conference First Round in any of the past three. Minnesota hasn't advanced past the second round since 2003, when the Wild made their only trip to the conference final since entering the NHL in 2000.
During an interview with NHL.com on Feb. 8, general manager Paul Fenton addressed the question of whether the Wild have enough to win in the postseason should they qualify.
"That will be the answer to be determined," Fenton told senior writer Dan Rosen.
The Wild's road to the playoffs is filled with roadblocks. Center Mikko Koivu is out for the season after surgery to repair a torn ACL and meniscus in his right knee. Defenseman Matt Dumba, who had 12 goals in 32 games, had surgery on Dec. 26 to repair a ruptured right pectoralis muscle; there is no timeline for his return. Minnesota also has five players who can become unrestricted free agents July 1: forwards Eric Staal, Eric Fehr and Matt Hendricks, and defensemen Brad Hunt and Anthony Bitetto.
The games against the Blues could have a big impact on what the Wild decide to do prior to the deadline.
"There will be some hard decisions to make come the trade deadline, but in the next 10 days or so, it will be determined by just how people play," Fenton said.
"The Western Conference has some very, very good teams. How we match up is still to be determined. We have internal players right now that we're utilizing to hopefully have other people step up to replace Mikko in our lineup"
Though the Wild have received production from rookie forward Luke Kunin, who has seven points (three goals, four assists) in five games since his most recent callup from Iowa of the American Hockey League on Feb. 4, more is needed. Minnesota is tied with Vancouver for 24th in scoring (2.79 goals per game) and forward Zach Parise is the only player to reach the 20-goal mark (23).
Boudreau cited the struggles of forward Jason Zucker, a 33-goal scorer in 2017-18 who has 14 goals in 56 games this season and one in his past 12.
"He doesn't shoot the puck," Boudreau said. You have to shoot the puck, have to use your gifts and his is speed. He gets too cute with things. When you're struggling, you just have to shoot the puck."