With the 2017-18 NHL season winding down, fans begin to turn their attention towards the playoffs and what it means for their team. Some squads are preparing their golf clubs and other summer activities, while other teams are preparing for the grind of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Fans begin to ponder who their team will acquire in the offseason to improve, while others begin to speculate on their team’s playoff opponent.
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The Minnesota Wild have not clinched a postseason spot yet and still have a difficult road to book their sixth straight postseason trip. With only nine games remaining, the pressure is on and every team still in the hunt is already playing playoff-style hockey. Only one Western Conference team, the Nashville Predators, has clinched a playoff berth but, with other teams breaking off from the pack, we can begin to speculate on who the Wild may end up playing if they are able to secure a trip to the postseason.
Since the Atlanta Thrashers moved to Winnipeg, becoming the Jets 2.0, the Wild have yet to meet them in the postseason. The Jets were originally still in the Southeast Division and remained there for the final two seasons prior to the NHL’s division realignment. Winnipeg being in a division with the Washington Capitals, Carolina Hurricanes, Florida Panthers and Tampa Bay Lightning made no sense geographically and was what prompted the NHL to begin considering division realignment. Since the move in 2013-14, the Wild and Jets have occupied the Central division.If the season were to end today, this is the playoff matchup we would receive in the first round. The close proximity between Winnipeg and St. Paul would allow for an intense playoff matchup and would undoubtedly truly begin a Wild-Jets rivalry. While, technically, both teams could catch Nashville, this is the most likely scenario should they both stay the course and book their trips to the postseason.
The Wild and Jets have played each other four times during the season, with Winnipeg taking the first three games. The Jets have outscored the Wild 14-10 and would prove a difficult opponent for Minnesota to advance, especially if Winnipeg earns home ice advantage.
One season after finishing as the runner-up in the Stanley Cup Final, the Predators became the first team in the Western Conference to hit 100 points as well as earning a playoff berth. While it’s unlikely Nashville loses their grip on the Central Division, Winnipeg has a significant chance to eclipse them with a mere six points between the two teams in the standings. Nashville remains the team that Minnesota would like to avoid at all costs, as only two teams have scored more goals than them and no team has fewer goals against in the Western Conference.
Another big story in a Wild-Predators matchup would be the playoff return of Ryan Suter to the playoffs. The series would offer a chance at redemption to a town that still lets Suter have it whenever he touches the puck in Bridgestone Arena. The Wild, on the season, won two games against Nashville and lost one with each team taking their wins on the road. With still two more games to be played before season’s end between the rivals, the Wild have outscored Nashville 10-9.
Vegas Golden Knights
The Vegas Golden Knights have recently become the first expansion team to eclipse the 100 point mark in their inaugural season. With eight games left, the Golden Knights are seven points ahead of the San Jose Sharks in the Pacific Division. This series could happen if the Wild falter and end up in one of the Wild Card spots. Minnesota forward, Jason Zucker, would have a extra incentive to put up big numbers against his hometown team.
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The expansion draft left Minnesota with a big decision in if they wanted to expose Eric Staal or risk losing one of their key defensive core members. Wild general manager Chuck Fletcher decided to trade prospect Alex Tuch for a third-round pick as compensation for Vegas selecting Erik Haula. Both players have had breakout seasons — Tuch currently ranks ninth on the team in points with 13 goals and 18 assists. Haula, meanwhile, ranks fifth for Vegas with 28 goals and 24 assists.
The Wild completed a season sweep against Vegas, being one of the few teams to find major success against the expansion team. Minnesota won all three games, including one in Vegas at T-Mobile Arena. The Wild outscored Vegas 13-6 in the season sweep.
St. Louis Blues
The St. Louis Blues are on the outside looking in according to the current standings, but are still only three points behind Minnesota for the third spot in the Central division. The matchup is a stretch as it would require Winnipeg to have a gigantic collapse, but is still a possibility. In this series it would be a rematch from the 2016-17 playoffs in which the Mike Yeo led Blues eliminated Minnesota in the first-round four games to one.
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Yeo, being the former head coach for Minnesota, would again create a headline worthy series. If the Blues were to win, Fletcher would have to answer some tough questions after firing Yeo in early 2016. The Wild found success against their division rival, winning the season series three games to one. St. Louis was able to earn a point in their December contest with a loss in overtime. On the series the Wild outscored St. Louis 19-12.
Another far-fetched scenario would again require Winnipeg to collapse before the season concludes. The Avalanche even making the playoffs would be a huge accomplishment, after finishing in the Central Division cellar with 48 points just a season ago. Colorado has not been to the playoffs since the 2013-14 series, where they were eliminated by Minnesota in the opening round.
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Minnesota fans should be ecstatic that Colorado is such a long shot to be their first-round series. The Avalanche took the season series three games to one, with their lone loss coming in overtime. Colorado outscored Minnesota 21-7 during the regular season.
Most Likely Opening Round Opponent
As previously stated, a Colorado or St. Louis series is more than likely not going to happen in the opening round. Much of the playoffs will still be decided based on how Minnesota plays their remaining pair of games against both the Dallas Stars and Nashville.
If the Wild continue to play how they have been even with the loss of Jared Spurgeon they will more than likely book their spot in the postseason and retain the third place slot in the Central division. Most likely everything will boil down to if the Jets can catch up to the Predators who only have six points between the pair.