Minnesota sports have always been known for their luck, though not in a good way. Former Minnesota Vikings kicker Gary Anderson became the first kicker in NFL history to have a perfect regular season with no missed field goals or extra points, but went on to miss a 38-yard field goal which resulted in a loss to the Atlanta Falcons in the 1998 playoffs. The 2009 NFC championship game gave light to the bounty scandal defensive coordinator Greg Williams operated, in which the New Orleans Saints targeted Vikings quarterback, Brett Favre.
The Minnesota Timberwolves, who own the NBA’s largest playoff drought, were set to finally earn a berth (although it still is possible) before recently acquired All-Star Jimmy Butler went down with an injury. The list goes on.
The Wild have been just plain bad in the postseason; it has never had much to do with luck. However, the Wild’s Achilles’ heel has been the Chicago Blackhawks who have made the postseason nine years straight. It makes perfect sense for the Wild to end their five-year streak when the Blackhawks are an obstacle the Wild wouldn’t even have to entertain. While Minnesota still has a shot at a playoff berth, losing one of their best players significantly hurts.
Jared Spurgeon to Miss Significant Time
Jared Spurgeon is expected to miss the rest of the regular season with a torn hamstring after Tuesday’s 5-1 loss to the Colorado Avalanche. Spurgeon did the splits as he came sliding into the boards while battling for the puck. Through the course of the season, Spurgeon, along with Ryan Suter, have been paired as the top defensive unit for Minnesota. He has now missed a total of ten games on the season with 11 more to follow.
The Wild lose their third most productive defenseman as far as points, who is also seventh overall on the entire team. In 61 games, Spurgeon has nine goals and 28 assists for a total of 37 points. He was only one goal from matching last season’s career highs in goals and points. Replacing Spurgeon is Ryan Murphy, the 24-year-old is 5-foot-11 and 184 pounds. This season he has played in ten contests with a goal and an assist, as well as a plus/minus of plus-six. Murphy has spent the last five years with the Carolina Hurricanes.
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Playoff Race is Tight
Currently, Minnesota sits in third place within the Central Division with 87 points. With 11 games remaining, the Wild’s record is 40-24-7. The Winnipeg Jets are seven points ahead, giving them a significant cushion. Below Minnesota and occupying the Wild Card spots are the Dallas Stars and Avalanche, each sitting at 84 points (Colorado has played 71 games, Dallas 72 games). The Western Conference as a whole becomes even more competitive with the Anaheim Ducks sitting on 84 points in 72 games outside of the Wild Card spots.
The schedule is favorable for Minnesota as they control their own destiny. With only five home games remaining, the Wild will have to take advantage while playing in St. Paul. In March, Minnesota has to play five teams currently occupying a playoff spot in the Western Conference. At home they will take on the Nashville Predators, Dallas, and the Los Angeles Kings. The Predators and Stars will each get a game against the Wild at home as well. In April, Minnesota closes out the season playing three playoff teams on the road. They will take on the Kings, Ducks, and the San Jose Sharks.
Minnesota will need to take advantage of these matchups if they hope to clinch a playoff berth for their sixth straight season. Nothing will be given to the Wild and their final three weeks will be full of intense playoff-style games. However, Tuesday’s tilt against the Avalanche is a good indicator of how ready the Wild are for physical battles. Minnesota was manhandled in almost every situation, they lost a key defender for the season, and gave no resistance to Colorado’s offensive and physical onslaught. This is when Chris Stewart would have been a very valuable player for Minnesota.
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Tough Road to Playoffs
While just clinching a playoff berth with everything going for you is hard enough, the Wild have lost one of their top defenseman while simultaneously having three teams within three points of them in the standings. The situation is extremely tricky and head coach Bruce Boudreau will have his hands full during the final stretch of the regular season. It will be up to him and captains Mikko Koivu, Zach Parise, and Suter to earn their paychecks and guide the Wild into uncharted territory, a sixth straight trip to the postseason and one step closer to Lord Stanley’s Cup.