With just four games remaining on their regular-season schedule, heading into today’s NHL on NBC matinee against the Red Wings (12:30 p.m. ET) the Minnesota Wild
are a desperate team right now.
Still, there's optimism emanating from the locker room as the Wild are within striking distance (two points entering play Saturday) of the eighth seed in the Western Conference.
"We still have a chance to make the playoffs and can't afford to lose games this time of the year; we have to be that hard working team," Wild coach Jacques Lemaire
"Basically, every game is like a playoff game," said Wild defenseman Martin Skoula
. "We just need to get the best out of every shift. I think we're still in the race, but we need two points (each game)."
Minnesota has won just four of the last 20 meetings (4-12-4) against Detroit, including a 5-2 decision in the most recent matchup in St. Paul on Feb. 21. The Red Wings are 20-5-6 all-time against the Wild.
"We don't expect to score like 300 goals or whatever Detroit has scored this season (actually 283), but we have our own strengths and I think we're the best team defensively in the League," Minnesota wing Antti Miettinen
said. "That's our strength, but still there have been times we haven't done that well either. We have to stick to our strength. We have to battle and play to our system the whole game and I think it will turn out all right."
In addition to dealing with a tough stretch of games to close out the regular season, the Wild also have had to overcome various injuries to several key players throughout the lineup, including Marian Gaborik
(lower body) for 38 games and captain and leading scorer Mikko Koivu
(lower body) for three. The club is currently without defenseman Brent Burns
, left wing Derek Boogaard
and right wing Pierre-Marc Bouchard
. To their credit, Minnesota, which has lost over 250 man-games to injury, has persevered to remain in the playoff hunt.
Burns and Bouchard aren't expected back soon as each continues to experience concussion-like symptoms
"I don't think you err on the side of caution, I think you just follow the protocol," said Wild General Manager Doug Risebrough when asked about Burns and Bouchard. "I don't feel it's like a knee injury where there's a gray area as to when a guy can play and when a guy can't play. Clearly with concussions, with the protocol that's there, it's almost a lot more obvious when we can."
Additionally, the Minneapolis Star Tribune reported Monday that left wing Andrew Brunette
is playing on a partially torn or fully torn right anterior cruciate ligament and faces offseason surgery. Owen Nolan
, meanwhile, continues to play despite a broken toe.
So the beat goes on.
"It's been a little frustrating because with the injuries because we never had a full team or, if we did, maybe just for a couple games," Lemaire said. "When it happens to key players, it's hard to get a good feel about the group and we were searching a little bit all year missing guys like Gaborik, Burns, Nolan and Brunette at certain points this season. On the other hand, it gives a chance to the kids to play more -- and some will get the points."
One such player receiving more playing time is 27-year-old center Krystofer Kolanos
, who was called up from the American Hockey League's Houston Aeros last Sunday to fill in for the injured Bouchard. Kolanos has 3 goals and 6 points in 21 games this season.
"He's a good offensive player and, at this moment, we're looking for goals and this is the reason he's been in the lineup," Lemaire said.
Meanwhile, the Wings have just continued their winning ways this season.
Detroit coach Mike Babcock, who needs one more victory to become the first coach in NHL history to earn four consecutive 50-win seasons since Scotty Bowman in the late 1970's, has already secured the 18th straight playoff berth in franchise history. The Wings have also established an NHL record for most consecutive 100-point seasons with nine -- the team is seeded second in the West with 107 points.
"It's unbelievable what Detroit has done for so many years," Bouchard said. "Every year, they find a way to put a great team on the ice. They have great chemistry -- they can move the puck and support each other so well. That's what amazes me about that team and that's why they're in the playoffs as a contender every year."
"You see teams that have three good seasons and then three bad seasons and then there are teams like Detroit who have been up there the last 20 years," Skoula said. "I guess they have to be doing something right."
Contact Mike Morreale at email@example.com.