Sunday, March 31, 2013

Three months down, one to go

Minnesota Wild playoff drive approaches last month, critical mass with California trip looming

March has been a fun month, if you've been cheering on the Minnesota Wild. With an 11-4 month of March (equalling a team record), the Wild enter April a mere 11 points from the supposed 'promised land' of 55 points, the level at which most pundits think will be enough to reach the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

With a game in hand versus Vancouver, the Wild enter April on Monday facing a difficult challenge, as 3 of their first 4 April contests are away from St. Paul, while Vancouver has 3 of their first 4 at home prior to their potentially killer, 5-game road trip starting April 10th.

The Wild's upcoming California road trip will be yet another 'acid test' of how the Wild have changed this season, with games in San Jose and LA before jetting east across the country to an appearance next Sunday in Columbus, against the improved (and still on the cusp of the playoffs) Blue Jackets.

LA is somewhat kinder to the Wild, where the Wild actually have an all-time winning record (10-8-4) vs. a less-that-scintillating 8-12-2 record in San Jose.

The fact is the West Coast trips for the Wild are long, sapping killer trips that expend considerable energy out of visiting teams, as the home teams are used to the California lifestyle and the 2-3 hour time difference. And, usually the Wild are rapping these games around those in Anaheim, where the Wild are nearly a .500 hockey team (10-11-1). But not this trip. This trip, the Ducks will have their hands full, playing three straight games against Dallas, the last three ever as divisional rivals, prior to their April 7 game at home vs. the Kings.

You can see how the NHL schedule intertwines the contenders and the pretenders as the compressed schedule goes down to the last 14 (or so) games. Every team in the West playoff race has at least one killer road trip left; how they deal with the adversity, away from home, will be the key to playoff qualifying, Or not qualifying.

So make sure your NHL Center Ice subscription is paid up. Get ready for some late night hockey. And remember to get your sleep. For this coming week, Wild faithful, you'll need it.

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