The Minnesota Wild have turned around their season since acquiring Devan Dubnyk form the Arizona Coyotes.
Dubnyk has made 24 consecutive starts for the Wild, taking them on an unprecedented 19-4-1 run.
In that time, Minnesota went from being in the double digits of points out of the second wild card spot, into now holding the first wild card position. Currently, the Wild are 4th in the Central Division, three points back of the Chicago Blackhawks and four points up on the ninth place Los Angeles Kings.
With an average of 15 or 16 games remaining for each team in the season, there is very limited time for teams to make moves in the conference standings. With that in mind, there are only a couple of teams the Wild could realistically face in the first round of the 2015 Playoffs.
The Minnesota Wild will likely finish anywhere between 3rd in the Central Division, to the second wild card position. Finishing in these positions would have them face either the winner of the Central Division or Pacific Division, or the 2nd place them in the Central.
Looking at the standings, Anaheim has already all but locked up the Pacific Division. In the Central, with Nashville sliding back right now, St. Louis could win the division with the Predators finishing second. It looks unlikely for Chicago to climb up to that position.
So, that leaves Minnesota likely to face either the Anaheim Ducks, Nashville Predators, or St. Louis Blues. Let’s look at how the Wild fare versus each team, and which one would be the best option for Minnesota.
Anaheim is definitely one of the strongest teams in the NHL, led by one of the top playmakers and also one of the top goal scorers in Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry. They’re young, yet strong in the net, with time usually split between Frederik Andersen and John Gibson.
They are currently tied for first place in the league with 91 points. However, in multiple important categories for evaluating a team, they fall in the middle of the pack. They have the 22nd best Power Play % at a 16.8% rate, and 11th best Penalty Kill % at 82.0%. In shots for/game, they’re 17th with 29.8 and 12th in shots against/game with 29.2.
Minnesota has gone 0-2-0 against the Ducks this year with one game left to play, although both the games were one goal games. Both games were played in 2014. The Wild outshot Anaheim 53-47 in the games, while their PP went 2-7 and their PK was 8-8. All in all, it’s pretty clear that Minnesota competed in both games and definitely would have the ability to push for an upset if they played in the first round.
Nashville has been the surprise team in the league this season, taking the Central Division by storm when most didn’t even expect them to make the playoffs. They’re carried by goaltender Pekka Rinne, who’s been healthy and spectacular this year. On defence, Shea Weber and Roman Josi lead on both ends of the ice. Flip Forsberg is also one of the favourites for the Calder Trophy this season.
The Predators are also tied for first in the league with 91 points. Their PP% is 22nd at 16.1%, while their PK% is 15th at 81.6%. They’re 8th and 5th in the league in goals per game and goals against per game though, with 2.84 and 2.37, respectively. All season, critics have been waiting for Nashville to go on a losing streak but it hasn’t come, although they’re just 3-6-1 in their past ten.
The Wild are 1-1-1 against Nashville this season, although Devan Dubnyk is 1-0-0. Niklas Backstrom played the other two games, while Kuemper was pulled after one period in one of them. Minnesota will get two more regular season games against the Predators before a possible playoff series. They would definitely have a possibility to upset Nashville and move on.
St. Louis Blues:
The St. Louis Blues are starting to heat up at the right time. They’re now just two points behind Nashville for the division lead, with two games in hand. They’re probably the deepest team in the league in every aspect of their roster. They’re mostly led offensively by Vladimir Tarasenko and defensively by Kevin Shattenkirk, who’s been out since February 1st.
The Blues are just two points out of first place in the NHL. They rank 4th and 8th in goals for/game and goals against/game with 3.04 and 2.48, respectively. They own the 3rd best PP% at 22.7% and the 13th best PK% at 81.6%. They’re also 7th in shots/game and 4th in shots against/game with 31.2 and 27.5. They’re a strong all around team, one Minnesota would likely not want to play.
Minnesota is currently 0-0-1 against the Blues, but will play them three more times in the remaining month of regular season play. The Wild outshot St. Louis 38-26 in that game, only to lose in the shootout. The remaining three games will be huge for Minnesota to make a statement as to how good they truly are against the best in the league.
Who should Minnesota hope to play?
Right now, the Nashville Predators look like the most vulnerable team of the three. They were not expected to do this well, are struggling now, and have very little playoff experience. It would almost be a repeat of their first round series against Colorado from last year, and the Wild would definitely have the opportunity to upset. The toughest opponent looks to be St. Louis, who are playing phenomenal hockey lately. All Minnesota can do is win their games and let the rest play itself out.