Ranking the 5 Most Crucial Players to Minnesota Wild's Playoff Hopes

Tom Schreier@tschreier3Correspondent IApril 24, 2013

Ranking the 5 Most Crucial Players to Minnesota Wild's Playoff Hopes

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    Phew! The Minnesota Wild pulled out a must-win against the Los Angeles Kings in a 2-1 victory on Tuesday night.

    At this point, it’s all about finishing off the Edmonton Oilers and Colorado Avalanche, two younger teams that are out of the playoff picture in the Western Conference. Hopefully Minnesota can take care of business and get into the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the first time since they won the Northwest Division in 2007-08.

    The following are the five most crucial players for Minny’s playoff hopes.

5. Tom Gilbert

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    The former Bloomington-Jefferson Jaguar is 30 years old and hardly plays the minutes that Ryan Suter and Jonas Brodin play, but the Wild need to be sure that they won’t get lit up when those two are on the bench.

    Gilbert will likely be paired with Clayton Stoner, 28, who came up through the Minnesota system. He could also be paired with Jared Spurgeon, who’s small but has a howitzer of a slap shot, or Justin Falk, who at 6’5” and 215 pounds brings more size and defensive prowess.

    Either way, Gilbert is the anchor on the second pairing and can make life easy for goaltender Niklas Backstrom by setting the tone with sound defense.

4. Matt Cullen

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    When Cullen is on the ice, Devin Setoguchi and Jason Zucker play better.

    It’s a simple as that.

    Setoguchi, 26, is entering his prime and is Minnesota’s second-leading goal-scorer this season. He’s also frustratingly mercurial and only scores consistently when paired with Cullen, a veteran that is 10 years his elder.

    Part of this is the latter’s playmaking ability, but part of it is his influence in the locker room. And it’s not only Setoguchi who is benefiting from Cullen’s mentorship.

    “It’s great having him mentor me,” rookie Jason Zucker, 21, told the Star Tribune’s Michael Russo. “He’s been around the block. He knows the game and all the details of it.”

    Zucker recently has been sent down, but should the puck hound get called back up, Wild coach Mike Yeo needs to put him on Cullen’s line.

3. Mikko Koivu

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    Mikko Koivu is the heart and soul of the Minnesota Wild.

    He’s been here in the Jacques Lemaire and Marian Gaborik days. He’s been here in the post-Gaborik days. Now he’s in the new era where Minnesota actually tries to, you know, score and is paired with some guy named Zach Parise. (I hear he’s pretty good.)

    This guy needs to be to the Wild what Ricky Rubio is to the Wolves: A person that gives his teammates the opportunity to score.

    As long as Koivu is dishing the puck, Minnesota is in good hands.

2. Ryan Suter

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    Suter played 32 minutes against the Kings on Tuesday. Thirty-two minutes! That’s more than half the game! It takes about that much time for Cal Clutterbuck to grease his hair and wax his mustache in the morning!

    If Suter is on top of his game, Minnesota will make the playoffs. When Suter is plus-1 or better, the team is 14-1-1 (per Minnesota Wild PR).

    His efforts may be underappreciated because he does not score as often as, say, Zdeno Chara, Erik Karlsson or his former defensive partner Shea Weber, but it’s the little things he does like keeping player away from the front of the net, clearing out juicy rebounds and winning battles in the corner that make him a special player.

    Without Suter and his influence on rookie partner Jonas Brodin, the Wild would not have enough defense to manage through this push.

1. Zach Parise

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    The hometown hero, Parise is going to make or break the Minnesota Wild. He’s their top scorer, their biggest hustler and the man you go to in crunch time.

    Parise plays every shift as though he could be sent down at the end of the game, even though he, like Suter, is under contract for 13 years. He’s always on the puck, creating turnovers and scoring chances.

    His offensive production is key to this late-season push for the Wild.

    Tom Schreier covers Minnesota sports for Bleacher Report and writes for TheFanManifesto.com. Visit his Kinja blog to see his previous work.