Why the Minnesota Wild Will Go Deep in the Playoffs for the 1st Time Since 2003

Ryan SzporerContributor IIIApril 13, 2014

Minnesota Wild defenseman Marco Scandella and St. Louis Blues defenseman Alex Pietrangelo.
Minnesota Wild defenseman Marco Scandella and St. Louis Blues defenseman Alex Pietrangelo.Ann Heisenfelt

It’s been 10 seasons since the Minnesota Wild have been to the second round, and taking the challenge that awaits them at face value, their streak of futility may yet surpass the decade mark.

Their No. 1 goalie has been on the shelf since January. The one they got to replace him has become a league-wide laughingstock that doesn’t even seem to take himself seriously. They rank in the bottom third of the league in terms of possession numbers. And they are a combined 2-5-2 against their two potential first-round opponents, each of whom has 13 points on them in the standings.

Needless to say, whether they end up facing the St. Louis Blues or Colorado Avalanche, it doesn’t look good. However, looks can be deceiving.

In all actuality, Minnesota is playing some of its best hockey right now, with a 6-0-1 record in the last seven games, a record that includes a current four-game winning streak.

More importantly, discounting their latest game against the St. Louis Blues (a 4-2 win), in which they were admittedly outplayed quite handily, the Wild have actually improved on their 48.6 percent Fenwick close rating. In the six games previous, they posted a 50.7 percent rating.

Meanwhile, the Colorado Avalanche, without their top forward, Matt Duchene, for the first round of the playoffs no less, are actually an even weaker possession team than Minnesota. The Avalanche have a Fenwick for rating of 46.8 percent in five-on-five, close-score situations, the fourth-worst mark in the entire league.

Sure, Minnesota would still enter a first-round series against Colorado as heavy underdogs. However, an upset is certainly not out of the question, especially with Minnesota having beaten a superior Patrick Roy-backstopped team (instead of a Roy-coached team) back in 2003 under very similar circumstances.

That was admittedly the last time the Wild got out of the first round, but they can certainly draw inspiration from that spring, during which they made it all the way to the third round, coming back from two consecutive three-to-one series deficits in the process.

Even if one were to chalk up Minnesota’s more-recent success to the ebbs and flows of the NHL regular season, the Wild were still able to beat St. Louis in their last game despite posting a rating in similar five-on-five, close-score situations of just 31.3 percent.

So, while unlikely, it’s still possible Minnesota can beat the Blues in the postseason, especially with the ground seemingly falling out from under their to-be opposition—losers of five straight—as we speak.

So bad has it gotten for the Blues that the goalie they traded away an arm and a leg for at the trade deadline, Ryan Miller, has been outplayed by the goalie they gave up, current-Washington Capital Jaroslav Halak. And that’s putting it mildly.

In his last 10 games, Miller has allowed 30 goals on just 260 shots (.885 save percentage). Overall, with the Blues, he has a decidedly mediocre .905 save percentage.

Minnesota Wild goalie Ilya Bryzgalov.
Minnesota Wild goalie Ilya Bryzgalov.Ann Heisenfelt

Halak on the other hand? Since being dealt away along with power forward Chris Stewart, prospect William Carrier and a first-round pick for Miller and Steve Ott, Halak has posted a 2.31 goals-against average and .930 save percentage. Halak, at just 28, has also been to a conference final more recently than Miller, now 33 and on the downswing.

What’s arguably more embarrassing however is Ilya Bryzgalov, the goalie with a self-professed fear of bears who got traded to a team with a logo of one, is outplaying Miller as well. Not only that, but he’s outplaying most of the league currently, with a 1.78 GAA and .923 save percentage in 11 games as a member of the Wild.

Not that it’s particularly relevant, of course, but the Wild only had to give up a fourth-round pick to get him.

Admittedly, the bottom line is that few will pick Minnesota to go deep in the playoffs, let alone make it out of just the first round. It will certainly be an uphill battle for them as a wild-card team, but they’re peaking at the right time. The deck is certainly stacked against them no matter which team they end up drawing. However, aces are wild and so are they, literally. They’re no favorites, but they’re still dangerous.