Sunday, March 6, 2011

No more room for error

OK, Minnesota Wild. You wanted to fight your way into the playoffs. You wanted the pressure to be on you. Well, be careful what you wish for. Because, sometimes it just might come true.

Like, now.

Entering this evening's 5:00 PM (Central Time) game vs. the Buffalo Sabres, the Wild need 22 points in their last 17 games in order to reach 96 points -- the generally agreed-to 'magic number' in order to qualify for the NHL's post-season.

With those 17 games remaining, are some that the Wild should -- should -- win, and some which, by all accounts, they will have next to no chance at. They will be competitive in almost all of them...

...but, hey, wait a minute: we said that about the game last Wednesday night against the hapless NY Islanders, didn't we? And look how that disaster turned out! In fact, the whole trip to New York turned out backwards for the boys in Iron Range Red, as they got destroyed by the Isles, then went into Madison Square Garden and took care of the NY Rangers, winning 3-1 to salvage two points out of the road trip -- a trip which, in hindsight, they should have swept.

The Wild must now face up to some of their worst road demons, starting Thursday on their longest road trip since the All-Star break, a four-game marathon with games in Nashville (an arena where they rarely win), Dallas (an arena where they almost NEVER win), Vancouver (the Wild do well there, occasionally) and San Jose (where they win sometimes). Not exactly the greatest road trip the Wild could go out on in the middle of the stretch drive.

But the biggest demon the Wild face, is the one that they face in front of their own fans. This team just can't stand winning at home, as their 2-2-1 home record in their last five games at Xcel Energy Center can attest to. You can say what you want, as this team is a good team on the road -- they have won this season at MSG, Vancouver, Anaheim, and in Detroit -- but their road success does not carry over in front of the home folks. And that, dear reader, is the crux of the problem.

With nine home games, the Wild basically need to sweep the season at home. Whomever the Wild have remaining on their schedule -- Buffalo, Colorado, Columbus, Montreal, Toronto, St. Louis, Edmonton, or the Dallas Stars (in the last game on the NHL schedule) -- the Wild must find a way to win all their remaining home games. And, they must win them, IN REGULATION TIME. The Wild cannot afford the 'luxury' of the overtime (or, God help us, the shootout) win. As a matter of fact, shootout wins may just be the saving grace for the Wild, as they will be tossed out in determining who will qualify for the playoffs, and their seeding once they qualify, should two (or more) teams qualify with the same number of points. Among Western Conference teams, the Wild are tied (with Edmonton) for the fewest number of shootout wins (2). By contrast, two teams the Wild are trying to catch, Calgary and Los Angeles, have 7 shootout wins each. If they are tied at the end of the season, the shootout wins are then thrown out, hence the need for the Wild to win in the regulation 60 minutes.

Sounds like another team which squeaked into the playoffs, didn't play a game at home in the post-season, and then went all the way:

The Green Bay Packers.

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