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Wild aim to end home skid, zero in on playoffs

by Dan Myers /

ST. PAUL, Minn. -- The Minnesota Wild are in the thick of the Stanley Cup Playoff race for the first time in five years. The Wild enter their game Tuesday night against the Los Angeles Kings six games above the .500 mark with three to go, controlling their own destiny in reaching the postseason for the first time since 2008.

But not all is well with the Wild -- especially within the confines of their own building, which for a decade has provided one of the most reliable home-ice advantages in the NHL.

After starting the season 13-3-1 at Xcel Energy Center, the Wild have dropped five in a row there at the most inopportune time.

The Wild control their own destiny with three games to go and have a chance to reach the postseason for the first time since 2008. (Photo: Bruce Kluckhohn/NHLI)

Perhaps even more disturbing is the total lack of offense in those five games. The Wild have scored four goals in that stretch -- one which has seen the team capture one of a possible 10 points.

"We gotta be better, for sure," Wild coach Mike Yeo said. "There's no excuses. We can sit here and say, 'We were doing a lot of good things,' but the bottom line is, we gotta be better."

Minnesota has been getting pucks to the net, especially in its past two home defeats, putting 41 shots on Columbus Blue Jackets goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky in a 3-2 shootout loss April 13 and 35 more at Calgray Flames goalie Joey MacDonald on Sunday in a 4-1 loss.

In all, Minnesota has outshot its opponent in four of the five games in a row it has lost in St. Paul.

Yeo said the Wild can do a better job of locating shots as well as getting them off quicker in order to make life more difficult for goaltenders the rest of the way, beginning with the Kings' Jonathan Quick on Tuesday.

"We had 18 chances after two periods last game [Sunday against Calgary] and just one goal to show for it," Yeo said. "Certainly, I think we can shoot the puck a little quicker and be more accurate, but having said that, we have to keep making sure we get that volume of shots but maybe get a little more traffic around the net. That's how goals are scored this year, those secondary opportunities."

Center Matt Cullen, one of two players on the Wild roster who has hoisted the Stanley Cup, said the players aren't focusing on things like puck luck or the lack of success at home of late

"For whatever reason, we've had a little bit of a slip," Cullen said. "That happens, it's a long season. Now it's important that we turn it and take care of business at home."

Minnesota is still in good shape for the playoffs, as long as it can win at least two of its final three games. After the Kings on Tuesday, the Wild play host to the Edmonton Oilers on Friday before heading to Denver for a game Saturday against the Colorado Avalanche -- both non-playoff teams.

Heading into action Tuesday, the Wild are seventh in the Western Conference, tied with Columbus but one point ahead of the ninth-place Detroit Red Wings and three ahead of the 10th-place Dallas Stars. The Wild, Red Wings and Stars all have a game in hand on the Blue Jackets.

"The playoffs start for us right now," Cullen said. "We need to improve the way we are playing and these three games are an opportunity to go into the postseason, ideally, with some momentum. It's on us to get our game to that level."

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