The end of 2013 could not have come soon enough for the Minnesota Wild. After spending the first two-and-a-half months competing for a top three spot in the Central Division they had gone into a tailspin to close out the calendar year. In the span of 12 days they had suffered through a six-game losing streak that not only threatened their hope of a 2nd consecutive playoff berth, but the job of Head Coach Mike Yeo as well. For a franchise that had assembled its most talented roster in its brief history, the possibility of a lost season was imminent.
Fast-forward three-and-a-half months and the memory of those agonizing days are slowly fading away. Since the calendar flipped to 2014 the Wild have gone 13-5-3 and are sitting in the top spot of the Western Conference Wild Card race. The roster that was once decimated by injuries is finally starting to resembles its opening day form once again (minus the once Vezina front-runner Josh Harding and opening day starter Niklas Backstrom) and the addition of Matt Moulson has bolstered the teams forward depth. With 18 games left in the regular season the Minnesota Wild are on the verge of a coveted playoff berth, but what lies ahead in the final stretch will be a test as to whether they should be considered challengers to the top teams.
You’ll be hard pressed to find another organization in the NHL that will be as busy as the Minnesota Wild in the final fifth of the season. Eight of their final 18 games will be of the back-to-back variety. To make matters worse, three of the back-to-backs will force the Wild to travel to or from Minnesota to their oppositions arena in a single day. The only back-to-back that does not follow suit is is a trip out east in which they go from Boston on March 17th to New York on March 18th.
What is possibly the worst part of these back-to-backs revolves around their opponents on the backend. Besides their matchup against the Islanders on March 18th, the Wild will be facing playoff contending teams in their second game of the back-to-backs. Two of those contending teams, St. Louis and Boston, will have fresh legs after getting a break prior to the matchup. The other team, the Detroit Red Wings, will have an identical travel itinerary to the Wild due to the two teams back-to-backs being a home and away series. As you can clearly see, it’s not an ideal situation to be in when you’re fighting for your playoff lives.
Nine of the Wild’s final 18 games will be against current playoff teams, which isn’t considered the toughest schedule amongst playoff hopefuls (Winnipeg can claim that honor with 13 of their final 17 games being against current playoff teams). What Minnesota lacks in quantity they make up in quality. Five of those nine games will be against teams who are currently leading their division (St. Louis: 2 , Boston: 2, Pittsburgh: 1). The saving grace in this situation is that all but two of those games will be at the Xcel Energy Center where the Wild are 22-7-3 this season.
If you stretch out to what is considered to be a ‘quality opponent’ then the Wild’s schedule gets a little trickier. 15 of their 18 games will be against quality competition and eight of their nine away games will be against those teams. In comparison, Dallas and Phoenix, who are both within striking distance of the Wild, only have 13 quality opponents remaining on their schedule. One thing is for sure, no one will be able to say that the Minnesota Wild didn’t earn their spot in the playoffs if they make it.