The Minnesota Wild recently clinched their spot for the playoffs after their win over the San Jose Sharks last week. It will be their eighth appearance out of the last nine seasons. They’re currently tied for second place with the Colorado Avalanche; each team had 66 points as of Thursday evening.
Either way, the Wild are likely to face either the Avalanche or the Vegas Golden Knights in the first round of the playoffs. We’ll take a closer look at each team’s regular-season records, key forwards, defensemen, and goaltenders; plus, a prediction for each series.
The Mysterious Golden Knights
When it comes to the regular season, the Wild and Golden Knights are not very familiar with each other. Over the last three seasons, they’ve played each other just three times per season. But this season, things took a dramatic change with them playing eight times and seeing quite a bit of each other.
The Wild have seen them six of the eight times so far, but they have the upper hand. The Wild have won four out of those six games, including stealing two wins on the road in Vegas. This gives them an even greater advantage to finish out the series against the Golden Knights with their final two games at home, where they have always had great success.
These two teams tend to have very close finishes, as 11 of their 14 meetings ended with a two-goal difference or less. Taking a look at this season, five of their six games were within a goal or two at the most. And these two teams have some very capable players that make these games so close in the first place.
Here we’ll take a look at a key player in each position that has made life hard for the Wild in the regular season and will probably continue to do so going into the playoffs.
Golden Knights’ right wing and current captain Mark Stone has had the best record against the Wild this season. In five games played, he has eight points — one goal and seven assists. He also had the Wild’s number last season, with two points in two games, leading the Golden Knights once again.
Stone led the team against the Wild in a couple of other stats also. He had the most takeaways, with eight, as well as time on ice, with an average of 20:10 minutes per game.
The Wild will want to keep a close eye on Stone if they face each other in the playoffs. He led the team in playoff points two seasons ago and was just two points behind the leader last season. The whole Golden Knights team is dangerous, but Stone is an exceptional scoring forward.
Offensively, the Golden Knights have Stone, but on defense, they have a number of players that stand out. They currently have three players tied for most points against the Wild. They are Dylan Coghlan, Nicolas Hague, and Shea Theodore; all three of them have three total points in games against the Wild.
As far as defensive stats, they have Alec Martinez, who has blocked 18 shots in games against the Wild. While he may have the most shots blocked, his teammate Alex Pietrangelo has spent the most time on ice defending against the Wild. He is on the ice an average of 26:32 minutes, spending nearly half the game on the ice.
This is probably the easiest position to say who stands out on the Golden Knights. Marc-Andre Fleury has played in five of the six games against the Wild. The good news for the Wild is they seem to have gotten the advantage and figured out how to score on him. They’ll probably see him in at least one, if not both, of their final matchups before the postseason starts.
What really makes Fleury dangerous is how good he’s been in the postseason. Over his career, he’s played in 146 playoff games and has 81 wins and 63 losses. Almost more impressive is the number of shots he’s faced over that time. He’s had 4,276 shots against him and saved 3,896, only letting in 380 shots, meaning he stopped 91 percent of them.
If the Wild were to meet up with them in the postseason, they will have to be on top of their game to find ways past Fleury. He’ll be the key to the Golden Knights defense, and the Wild will need to have their scorers playing at their best, especially players like Kirill Kaprizov and Kevin Fiala.
If the Wild face the Golden Knights in the playoffs, I predict it will be a very close series going to at least six, if not seven, games. Both teams are very offensive-minded with strong goaltenders. I think the key will be figuring out how to get past the goalies, whether it be the Golden Knights’ Fleury or the Wild’s Cam Talbot.
Who do I think will win it? It may sound biased, but I’m going to go with the Wild in seven games. These two have had very tight finishes, but I think the Wild may be able to figure out the secret and win the series to move on. They might not face the Golden Knights, however, as they may face a close rival that they know quite well.
The Familar Colorado Avalanche
The Wild and Avalanche have met each other all eight times this season, and unfortunately for the Wild, the Avalanche walked away with the series five games to three. There were some rollercoaster contests, with one going in favor of the Avalanche 6-0, but then the Wild stormed back and won 8-3 in their last meeting of the season.
As far as years past, the Wild and Avalanche have played each other 114 times with a pretty close record. They’ve beaten each other over 50 times each. These teams have been in the same division since the Wild’s inception back in 2000, even when the divisions were realigned in 2013-14 as well as this past year’s realignment due to the COVID situation, they’ve ended up stuck together. They’ve created quite the rivalry over the last 20 years.
Apart from the regular season, they’ve even seen each other multiple times in the playoffs as well. The last time they saw each other in the playoffs was back in 2014. It went to seven games, with the Wild winning four games to three and moving on to the second round.
Like the Golden Knights, the Avalanche have a number of players that can make it difficult for the Wild, especially if they face each other in the first round of the postseason.
The Avalanche have a number of skilled forwards who can score a lot of goals. Center and captain Nathan MacKinnon has the most points in games against the Wild, as he has 14 total points with three goals and 11 assists in seven games.
It wouldn’t be fair not to mention who is right behind MacKinnon in stats, as Mikko Rantanen is an up-and-coming young player who sits just three points behind MacKinnon. In eight games, he had 11 points with five goals and six assists.
These forwards are a menacing pair when they play against the Wild, as they have found ways to score goals in all kinds of ways against the Wild’s goaltenders. Both Talbot and Kaapo Kahkonen were victims to these forwards scoring abilities in almost every game they played against them.
With how similar these two teams are to each other, they each have a solid defensive core. The one player that stands out and has been making a name for himself in the NHL is Cale Makar. He had nine points, two goals, and seven assists in eight games against the Wild.
In regards to actual defensive stats, someone else draws attention. Defenseman Ryan Graves has blocked 18 shots against the Wild in eight games, and he’s also spent the most time on ice defending against them — he’s spent an average of 24:44 minutes on the ice against the Wild. There’s one more part of the defense that will cause the Wild problems if he continues to play well.
Avalanche goaltender Philipp Grubauer has played in seven of the eight games against the Wild and has five wins and two losses with a save percentage (SV%) of .886. He faced 166 shots and saved 147, so the Wild were able to score on him.
Grubauer has only been with the Avalanche since the 2018-19 season, so he has yet to face the Wild in the playoffs. However, he does have a decent record in the playoffs while with the Avalanche. Out of 23 games played, he’s won 13 with six losses and one overtime loss.
Grubauer doesn’t have the level of playoff experience like Fleury, but he does have a good record, especially recently. Last season, he went 5-0-1 in the seven games he started. He had to share some of the playoff time with the other two Avalanche goaltenders, but he has managed to become their frontrunner over this season.
The Wild and Avalanche have a lengthy history against each other, including several playoff meetings. Many diehard Wild fans will remember the 2003 series when the Wild came back from being down three games to one. They won the series dramatically, four games to three, with the final two games going into overtime. The Wild even scored the final goal against the famous former Avalanche goaltender Patrick Roy.
If the Wild were to play the Avalanche, I think it would be a tight series once again. These two teams play each other hard and have had a total of 225 hits in their regular series matchups. They’ll continue to do that if they end up against each other in the postseason, if not more.
Who do I think would win? As much as I would love to say the Wild, I think they would struggle against the Avalanche. They’d have a close series, but in the end, I think the Avalanche would be able to seal the deal where the Wild would not. I think it would be the Avalanche in six games.
Whoever the Wild end up facing in the postseason will prove to be a challenge. Regardless of who Minnesota will have to play, they’ll have to keep an eye on those key players and figure out ways to shut them down. They also have to find a way to get by the opposing goaltenders.
I think either series will be entertaining, and the Wild will need to step up big to get wins. Frankly, I’m hoping they get the Golden Knights because I think they’ll have better luck playing them, but ultimately, it’ll come down to points and where the teams place to find out who plays who.
Mariah Holland is a contributing Minnesota Wild writer for THW. She’s been covering the Wild at THW since October of 2020 and specializes in game takeaways and weekly check-ins. She is always looking for different angles to cover the Wild and dig deeper into the stories surrounding the team to help fans connect on a more personal level and to keep an eye on the latest follow her on Twitter @MariahEStark.