Following Wild games, Managing Editor Mike Doyle will give the Five Takeaways that he'll remember from each contest. Today, he'll look back at a 3-1 win over the Colorado Avalanche:
With a win tonight, the Wild has punched a ticket to the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the first time since 2008. It sure wasn’t easy, but to borrow a line from Jimmy Dugan, “The hard is what makes it great.”
Sure, the Wild could’ve wrapped up things on home ice yesterday, but what fun would that have been? I wouldn’t have been sitting in the press box at the Pepsi Center sweating bullets while watching two other games on the televisions, typically set on the home game broadcast. It was the tensest game I’ve seen from a press box, but that’s what made it so much fun.
Both the Columbus Blue Jackets and Detroit Red Wings won while the Wild was in the third period, so it became a must-win game for Minnesota. With a one-goal lead, the club jumped on the back of goaltender Niklas Backstrom and played a smart off-the-glass-and-out period. It was a tense final 10 minutes and I bet there are a lot of people in the State of Hockey with worn-down fingernails.
Winning time is what separates great players from average ones. It’s the time when the game is on the line and a player either steps up to the plate, wanting to be the hero, or just hopes the spotlight does not burn him. For a team to find postseason success, its best players have to step up in winning time.
Tonight, with the season in the balance, the Wild’s leaders stepped up. This was not a look at the stats game as much as a roll up your sleeves, get down and dirty in the trenches and muck it out kind of win. Zach Parise scored the team’s opening goal and fired four shots on net. Mikko Koivu added an assist on the play, had five shots and played a tough 19:26 TOI. Ryan Suter set a career high in TOI with 32:54 and was plus-2.
Speaking of a guy stepping up, Backstrom owned tonight’s game after being relieved yesterday. Backstrom has made a career of coming back strong after a bad performance and shutting down the opponent. When the Wild needed him the most, he stepped up with save after save.
There has been talk about Backstom’s heavy workload, but the goaltender is a workhorse. He is such a routine goalie, that in his case, more is better. His style is a big reason he has the capacity to play big minutes. He relies more on angles and positioning than athletic prowess, which makes it easier to see a high volume of games. He’ll need to continue his strong play in the postseason, and he wouldn’t have it any other way.
In the last month of the regular season and playoffs, refs tend to swallow the whistle. Power plays are as scarce as snowfall in Hawaii around this time of year, so teams have to take advantage—if and when they get one. Tonight, the Wild scored its first power play goal in five games on an absolute rocket from Devin Setoguchi. The winger caught the puck at the top of the right circle, leaned into a shot and hammered the puck through a screen past Semyon Varlamov’s blocker.
Along with goaltending, power plays can be the biggest difference maker when it comes to the postseason. The Wild had a chance to ice things with a 5-on-3 power play in the third period, but was unable to convert. Not scoring could’ve taken the wind out of a mentally weak team, but the Wild stayed composed and closed things out.
Of course we would go down to the last day of this shortened regular season to figure out who would be in the playoffs and what the first-round matchups would be. The Wild will face the Chicago Blackhawks in the Quarterfinals of the Western Conference. Might as well kick start the rivalry with next season’s divisional opponent a year early, right?
However, the opening round in the Western Conference is not yet set. The San Jose Sharks skate against the Kings in Los Angeles to determine the fourth, fifth and sixth seeds, with the St. Louis Blues in the mix waiting to find out its assignment.