Minnesota Wild Clinch Postseason Berth; Latest 2021 NHL Playoff Picture

Scott Polacek@@ScottPolacekFeatured ColumnistApril 25, 2021

Minnesota Wild left wing Kirill Kaprizov (97) celebrates his goal against the Arizona Coyotes with left wing Kevin Fiala (22), center Nick Bonino (13), and defenseman Jared Spurgeon (46) during the first period of an NHL hockey game Monday, April 19, 2021, in Glendale, Ariz. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)
Ross D. Franklin/Associated Press

Step one is complete for the Minnesota Wild as they search for the first Stanley Cup title in franchise history.

They clinched a spot in the playoffs Saturday with a 6-3 win over the San Jose Sharks

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Three West Division teams have now locked up their spots in the postseason with Minnesota joining the Vegas Golden Knights and Colorado Avalanche. Over in the Central, the Carolina Hurricanes are likely to clinch their berth next after missing an opportunity to do so on Saturday by falling to the Florida Panthers in overtime. 

While the Wild have not enjoyed much sustained playoff success, this is the eighth time in the past nine years they have qualified for the postseason. They were beaten by the Vancouver Canucks in the qualifying round last season and lost in the first round in their previous three playoff trips.

In fact, the only time they made it past the second round was in the 2002-03 season, when they advanced to the Western Conference Final only to get swept by the Anaheim Ducks.

Minnesota is hoping for a deeper run this time around, but that will not be easy in the realigned division format the NHL adopted in an effort to minimize travel during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The shuffle put the Wild in the West Division with two powerhouses in the Vegas Golden Knights and Colorado Avalanche. That means they will likely have to beat them both to advance past the second round this year, which is a daunting proposition.

The Wild will likely need to rely on their strong defense and goaltending if they are going to make some noise in the playoffs.

They rank eight in the league with 2.60 goals allowed per game and have received strong play from both Cam Talbot and Kaapo Kahkonen between the pipes.

On the offensive end, rookie Kirill Kaprizov has spearheaded the attack with 41 points on 22 goals and 19 assists. Kaprizov broke Marian Gaborik's Minnesota rookie record for total goals in a season during an April win over the Arizona Coyotes.

"There was a lot of hype about him coming in and you never know for sure until you actually see a player how he's going to adjust, not only to the hockey, but everything off the ice, too," forward Nico Sturm told reporters. "It's undeniable he's taken this team to the next level with his play."

If he can do that in the playoffs, Minnesota could play spoiler to the Avalanche and the Golden Knights.