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Oilers ruin Wild's chance to clinch playoff berth

by Dan Myers

ST. PAUL, Minn. -- A sellout crowd came to Xcel Energy Center on Friday night ready to celebrate the Minnesota Wild's return to the Stanley Cup Playoffs. They left quietly after the Edmonton Oilers spoiled the party.

The Oilers' 6-1 victory in front of a stunned audience left the Wild still needing some combination of two points to clinch their first playoff berth since 2008. The Wild need a road win against the Colorado Avalanche or a loss by the Columbus Blue Jackets against Nashville on Saturday. If each team gets one point, the Wild will qualify via a tiebreaker.

The Wild could finish as high as seventh if they win Saturday and the Detroit Red Wings lose their season finale to the Dallas Stars in any manner. The Red Wings have 54 points; the Wild and Blue Jackets have 53.

To make the playoffs, the Wild will have to shake off perhaps their worst performance of the season.

"It's easy to get derailed by a game like that," forward Kyle Brodziak said. "It's tough to explain … I don't think anyone really knows what happened.

"You just forget about this. Tomorrow is a new day and we're fighting for our lives now. We gotta lay it all on the line and play as desperate as we possibly can tomorrow."

It's safe to say Friday's result was quite a shock to the 19,090 fans, who were hoping to see a coronation. The Oilers came to the Twin Cities having scored just 13 goals in a 1-9-0 stretch that knocked them out of the playoff race. In goal for Minnesota was Niklas Backstrom -- 17-0-0 lifetime against the Oilers in his home arena. The Wild had won 19 of their past 20 meetings in this building against Edmonton.

But instead of the expected Wild win, the Oilers scored early and often -- three times in each the first and second periods.

"One of the weirdest games I've ever played in," Wild forward Matt Cullen said. "One of the most disappointing games I've ever been in. I don't know what to say."

"This is a challenge, for sure. It doesn't feel good." Wild coach Mike Yeo said. "This was not our night, to put it extremely mildly."

Both teams started the game with its fourth lines on the ice and it didn't take long for the fireworks to begin. Just after the opening faceoff, Edmonton's Mike Brown and Minnesota's Zenon Konopka dropped the gloves.

Afterwards, Oilers coach Ralph Krueger said starting his fourth line wasn't meant to send a message. But the fight gave the Oilers a jolt, and they controlled the first couple of shifts afterwards, scoring at the 27-second mark when defenseman Corey Potter buried a one-timer from the right circle.

"That line has been playing very well for us the last few games," Krueger said. "It just felt like a good line to get us going and they got us going in more ways than one."

Yeo said he started his fourth line because he refused to be pushed around on home ice. While neither Konopka nor Brown seemed to earn a clear win in the duel, it's clear Edmonton responded better after the scrap.

"We didn't lose the game because of that," Yeo said. "We can talk about this one until we're blue in the face. I just want the focus to be on tomorrow."

At 8:02, Taylor Hall capitalized on a bad turnover in his own zone by Pierre-Marc Bouchard, ripping a snap shot short-side past Backstrom.

Cullen had a pair of glorious chances go by the wayside late in the first when he missed the net on a 2-on-1 rush and was stopped on a breakaway by Nikolai Khabibulin seconds later.

Those misses proved to be costly when, less than a minute later, Jordan Eberle slid a pretty centering feed from the left half-wall to a crashing Potter in the slot, who made it 3-0 at 18:38.

The goal earned Backstrom a seat on the bench; he allowed three goals on just five shots -- one of which was a dump-in from center ice.

"It wasn't good enough. We just have to move on and get ready for tomorrow," Backstrom said. "I think we can, we've been doing it all year. If we find a way to play our game [Saturday], that will be good enough."

Josh Harding entered for Minnesota, playing in his first game since Feb. 7. Diagnosed with multiple sclerosis last summer, Harding has been out for more than two months in an attempt to find the right course of treatment in battling the disease.

Unfortunately for both Harding and the Wild, there would be no miracle comeback story.

Eberle scored on a bad angle shot at 4:09 of the second before goals by Nail Yakupov less than four minutes apart made it 6-0. Harding finished with nine saves on 12 shots.

Hall had a solid night with a goal and two helpers, earning the first assist on both of Yakupov's tallies with a pair of nifty passes.

"Minnesota's beat us a lot the last three years I've been here," Hall said. "We wanted to come out and spoil their party and we did. As much as it has [stunk] to be out of the playoffs, it is nice to spoil some team's aspirations."

Edmonton scored six goals on its first 11 shots and breezed despite being outshot 39-17.

"They came in and capitalized on every opportunity that they had and we just gave them way too many," Brodziak said.

Yeo said he will come back with Backstrom again at Colorado on Saturday.

"I've got total confidence in Backy to play that game," Yeo said. "This one hurts, but I've seen this group respond enough, I've seen our leadership enough, to still be confident."

Mikko Koivu's 11th goal of the season just before the midway point of the final period snapped Khabibulin's shutout bid on Minnesota's 34th shot of the night.

Khabibulin faced 15 shots in the first and 13 more in the second, keeping the Wild off the board while his teammates ran up the score. He finished with 38 saves in his first victory since March 26.

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