The Minnesota Wild, by some stroke of magic or luck, found a way to do the impossible Friday night.
Facing elimination in Game 5, the Wild looked like they were ready to end the 2015-16 season early in the game. The team looked tired and sloppy – but here they are, somehow, scheduled to play Game 6 Sunday afternoon. In classic Minnesota Wild fashion, this team wasn’t going down without a fight, and that’s exactly what they did in Game 5 (If you don’t know what I’m talking about, click here for a recap).
Now that the Minnesota Wild have accomplished more than anyone in the hockey world could have imagined, I have six questions for this underdog team before they take the ice in St. Paul for Game 6. But before I go any farther, I’m sorry the Wild have ruined so many of your brackets. Even I didn’t see this coming, but I certainly can’t say I’m upset about it.
Carrying on with the questions now.
1. Does Mikko Koivu Deserve to be Minnesota’s Captain?
Are people still asking this question? Was Friday night’s incredible, season-saving performance finally enough to prove Koivu has more than enough leadership skills to captain this team?
Not only did Koivu score the tying goal in the third period to push the Wild to overtime, but he then continued on to score the overtime winner only four minutes and 55 seconds into the first period of extra hockey.
Koivu was a leader last night and there is no denying that. His team was facing elimination, so he put the Wild on his back and carried this team when they needed it most. Koivu might not be a flashy captain – one that makes his presence overtly known every night – but last night he proved once and for all, he’s exactly what this team needs.
2. Where Did This Mikael Granlund Come From?
Last night, Mikael Granlund reminded us how talented he is. Granlund was on fire last night, making incredible plays (like the one that allowed Koivu to tie the game in the third), and moving in a way Minnesota fans haven’t often season this season.
It wasn’t only in Game 5 that Granlund played like a completely different player, though. Even John Torchetti noted after the game that the 24-year-old Finn has had an impressive series.
He’s probably our best competitor. Heart of a lion, and that’s what it’s all about, – Torchetti on Granlund (via Evan Sporer)
I’m not sure where this version of Granlund came from, but I certainly hope he continues to play with this same drive on Sunday afternoon.
3. Where is Jason Zucker?
While Granlund has flourished, Jason Zucker has all but disappeared.
Last season, Zucker was one of the Wild’s best playoff performers, helping his team defeat the St. Louis Blues in six games in the first round. This season, Zucker seems to be having a difficult time finding his way onto the scoresheet.
In five games so far this postseason, Zucker has yet to score and has two assists. But it hasn’t just been the playoffs where No. 16 has struggled to find offense. It’s been over a month since Zucker scored his last goal back on March 19. To make matters worse, that goal on March 19 was one of only two goals that Zucker has scored in the past 36 games.
That’s right. Zucker has scored two goals in the past 36 games.
While this team is clearly able to find offense without Zucker, a few goals from the guy who was a playoff superstar last season certainly wouldn’t hurt.
4. Has Jason Pominville Found His Game?
Luckily for Minnesota, the other Jason on the team seems to have found his stride
just in time.
Pominville, who struggled throughout much of the regular season, has become a vastly different player over the past five games. He’s been in the right place at the right time, making great passes and giving his teammates just what they need to succeed. Pominville currently leads the team in playoff points (six) and is tied with Koivu in goals with three.
I think it’s safe to say Pominville has found his game.
5. Why Couldn’t the Wild Play Like this All Season?
This team is the definition of inconsistent. One night they’re on fire, the next night they look like they’ve never put on a pair of skates. The playoffs have been no different.
Game 5 was exciting and heart-pounding, and this team demonstrated they have incredible talent. Yet this team still is unable to carry that energy into every game they play, and that’s why they’ve found themselves fighting off elimination since Game 4.
If this team is going to play fast, nerve-racking, entertaining hockey night in and night out, they have to find a way to be consistent. Game 6 is the perfect time to prove they can carry over that fire, even if they couldn’t do it in the regular season.
6. Can the Wild Actually Win This Series?
Of course. It’s the playoffs. Anything is possible.
Alli covers the Minnesota Wild and has been a contributing writer with THW since August 2014. She is currently a journalism and sports management student at the University of Minnesota. For all of your Minnesota Wild news and updates, follow her on twitter: @allibaker23