The Minnesota Wild are in the middle of an intense playoff race in the Western Conference, but you wouldn't have been able to figure that out by watching their embarrassing 6-1 loss to the Edmonton Oilers at the Xcel Energy Center on Friday night.
It was a shocking defeat for Minnesota, whose effort level was terrible for a team that still hasn't clinched a playoff berth.
The Oilers were eliminated from the playoff race last week and had nothing to play for, but they were still able to earn a 3-0 first-period lead after taking just five shots.
Wild forward Matt Cullen spoke after the game about his team's loss (per Michael Russo of the Minnesota Star-Tribune):
Michael Russo @Russostrib
Cullen: "it was one of the weirdest games I've ever played in and obviously one of the most disappointing games I've ever been in" #mnwild4/27/2013, 2:49:11 AM
Michael Russo @Russostrib
Cullen: "we got spanked in a game that we absolutely needed to win." Amazingly, #mnwild outshot #oilers 39--17; gave up 6 goals on 11 shots4/27/2013, 2:50:13 AM
The outcome of this game has impacted the Western Conference playoff race as a whole, not just the Wild's chances of finishing in the top eight of the standings.
Minnesota is tied with the Columbus Blue Jackets for the eighth and final playoff spot in the West with 53 points. The Wild entered Friday with two games remaining on their schedule, giving them a great opportunity to clinch a playoff spot against some weak competition.
The good news for the Wild is that their final opponent of the season on Saturday is the Colorado Avalanche, who currently sit at the bottom of the West standings. But if the Wild give the kind of effort they did on Friday, a season that was full of promise following the offseason signings of superstars Ryan Suter and Zach Parise will end in disappointment.
It's important to note regulation and overtime wins (ROW) is the first tiebreaker used in determining playoff spots.
Minnesota and Detroit have 21 ROW, while Columbus has 18. This means that the Blue Jackets cannot win any tiebreakers. If the Wild and Red Wings finish with the same number of ROW, Minnesota would win the head-to-head tiebreaker because of its 2-1 record versus Detroit.
Here are the playoff scenarios heading into the final weekend of the regular season, but first, let's take an updated look at the West standings.
|7th||Detroit Red Wings||47||23||16||8||54|
|9th||Columbus Blue Jackets||47||23||17||7||53|
Blue Jackets clinch a playoff spot with:
- A win and a Detroit loss in regulation
- A win and a Minnesota loss in regulation
- A win and a Minnesota loss in regulation/OT/shootout
Red Wings clinch a playoff spot with:
- Any type of win
- An overtime/shootout loss and a Minnesota loss of any kind
- An overtime/shootout loss and a Columbus loss of any kind
- Any scenario in which they are tied with Columbus in points
Wild clinch a playoff spot with:
- Any type of win
- An overtime/shootout loss and a Columbus loss in regulation
- An overtime/shootout loss and a Detroit loss in regulation
- Any scenario in which they are tied in points (MIN has tiebreaker advantage over both teams)
Minnesota was in a strong position to clinch a playoff spot after going 11-4 in the month of March, but this team has a disappointing 4-8-1 record since the start of April, which includes just three points earned in its last seven home games (outscored 21-7 in those matchups).
After team owner Craig Leipold spent $196 million in free agency last summer to improve his roster, failing to reach the postseason could result in a head coaching change. This kind of collapse is unacceptable for a team with this much talent.
The Wild have been inconsistent all year, but they have just one more challenge to overcome before reaching the postseason. It will be interesting to see how they handle this defeat from a mental perspective. A great start to Saturday's game against Colorado is important for Minnesota because this team does not appear to have the confidence needed to erase a deficit late in a game.
It's always exciting to have a few playoff spots up for grabs on the final weekend of the season. In fact, the Wild, Red Wings and Blue Jackets could all finish seventh, eighth or ninth in the standings, so there are plenty of different ways for this playoff race to be decided.
Detroit is also trying to extend its 21-year playoff appearance streak, which will give the veterans on the Red Wings roster plenty of motivation for a strong performance in the regular-season finale.
The 2013 Stanley Cup playoffs don't start until April 30, but you can bet there will be a playoff atmosphere in Columbus, Colorado and Dallas on Saturday. This is the best time of the year to be a hockey fan.
Which teams do you think will earn the final two playoff spots in the West? Share your opinion in the comments section below.