Sunday, April 7, 2013

Wild goal: Eight out of five?

Are fans asking for too much from the Minnesota Wild? Or are expectations changing as team changes?

Eight points in five games. Is that too much to ask?

The end is near. Or so the guy with the hand-made sign on the street says. So, I ask you, dear blog reader: is eight points for the Wild in the next five games (basically, a 4-1 record) too much to ask from the boys in Iron Range Red (or Forest Green, vs. Chicago)?

With 11 games (including Sunday's 5 PM tilt in Columbus) remaining in the shortened, compressed NHL season, the fact that the Wild are in position to even make the Stanley Cup Playoffs is a testament to the determination of this team to make it work, despite the NHL's worst travel schedule and nine back-to-backs. The Wild head into Columbus and the first home game for ex-Wild cherry picker Marian Gaborik in his new home with the suddenly successful Blue Jackets, who have not lost in Nationwide Arena in nearly two months (Feb. 10, in fact, vs. Edmonton). The Jackets start their last meaningful home stand today; when they meet again this coming Saturday in St. Paul, the Jackets will have embarked on a six-game, 13-day forced march thru Minnesota, Colorado and the Pacific Division, meeting every team except Phoenix away from Ohio. So every point they get at home will be as critical for them as the points are for the visiting Wild.

As of today, the Wild have 7 games with 4 of the bottom 6 teams in the NHL's Western Conference, including home and away games with lowly Calgary, somewhat-fading Edmonton and the Blue Jackets, and one game (the final regular-season game) at Colorado. Fortunately, the Anaheim Ducks, the Wild's chief pain in the collective side, are not on the schedule the rest of the regular season. Single games remain at home vs. Chicago, St. Louis, and LA; the Wild are still scheduled for one more visit, to the house of horrors known as the HP Pavilion-San Jose, to face the Sharks.

Are fans expectations changing as the team changes and gets better?

I, for one, do expect more as the team gets better. Yes, I know, I should learn to 'manage expectations' better, but as this team adds talent to the roster, the expectations should, conceivably, rise to the occasion of the talent level. I grow tired of the 'maybe we'll make the playoffs, and maybe we won't' expectation, season after season. The fact is that this team is in a good state right now; the team's upper management, and ownership, has proven to the players (and fans) that they will do what they can in order to win.

Now it's up to the players -- the guys who are actually 'in the room' -- to get the job done. Show the fans that you are as committed to winning as those you answer to are. Yes, the fans have every right to still be a little bit skeptical as to whether or not you will even MAKE the playoffs, much less go far in them. But that's what fans are. After four seasons of not making the playoffs at all, a little skepticism goes a long, long way. And after the spectacular crash-and-burn which occured about this point last season, just holding on for dear life isn't going to help you at all, Minnesota Wild.

So, to go back to my original point; is eight points in the next five games too much to ask? Let's take a look ahead:

Game 1 -- today, 5 PM CDT, at Columbus -- Wild either win close or lose in OT/SO. Too close to call. But, since the point is to manage expectations; we'll manage them to a Wild win, as Nate Prosser is relieving Tom Gilbert on the blue line today. When Nate plays, the Wild win. Simple as that. Two points for the visiting Wild.

Game 2 -- Tuesday, 7 PM CDT, vs. Chicago -- nationally-televised game in which the Wild should do well in. (Hopefully better than last month's disaster in the United Center, where the Wild basically laid an egg, losing 5-3.) Chicago already assured home-ice in 1st round with that 24-game unbeaten-in-regulation streak. Wild win. (2 Points.)

Game 3 -- Thursday, 7 PM CDT, vs. St. Louis -- Blues will be on 3rd game of 4-game roadie (at Detroit, Nashville, Minnesota, Columbus). This is the game that scares me. Which Blues team will show up Thursday night? The one that lost 4 of 5 prior to the last game last week at the X? Or the one from earlier on this season, which won 6 of their first 7? With Jay Bouwmeester and Jordan Leopold both now on the Blues' blue line, this could be a trap game. This is the one I think Wild lose. (Hope I'm wrong, but...)

Game 4 -- Saturday, 7 PM CDT vs. Columbus -- Marian Gaborik's revenge night. Unlike when AJ Pierzinski and Kevin Garnett left Minnesota, folks, Gaborik brought nothing back when he signed as an UFA with the Rangers in 2009. It's OK to boo lustily whenever he touches the puck (which, we hope, won't be often.) Wild win this one. (2 Points).

Game 5 -- Monday, April 15, 8:00 PM CDT, at Calgary -- the Flames have basically thrown in the towel. GM Jay Feaster sold off Jarome Iginla, Bouwmeester, and almost sold off Curtis Glencross, have been told Mikka Kiprusoff is not returning after this season, and the rebuilding has, indeed, started in Calgary. Wild should win this game, too. (2 points).

That's my thoughts. Let's play the games and see how it all shakes out. Remember to manage your expectations, also. Doug Risebrough would expect nothing less.

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