Minnesota Wild Head into the Stretch Run with a Difficult Road Ahead

Blake BenzelCorrespondent IMarch 5, 2010

DALLAS - JANUARY 18:  Right wing Antti Miettinen #20 of the Minnesota Wild celebrates a goal against the Dallas Stars at American Airlines Center on January 18, 2010 in Dallas, Texas.  (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

As the Wild’s 62nd game draws ever closer, the trade deadline has left the team’s fans with a stark reality.

It’s playoffs or bust for this team.

By not moving Owen Nolan or shopping assets such as Josh Harding and *cough*JamesSheppard*cough*, there is a distinct message that Chuck Fletcher is sending to his team and to its fans.

“I believe in this team and I believe that we can make the playoffs and advance in the playoffs.”

Whether or not this is a realistic statement is a debate for another time and, quite frankly, a blogger with much more energy to confront the topic than I have at the moment.

But, with the cards played, what will it take for this team to make a legitimate playoff push?  Let’s look at it, shall we?

First, the Wild is four points behind eighth place Detroit, with at least one game in hand on each of the four teams separating themselves from the Winged Wheel.

Now be warned, Wild fans, this is where it begins to get grim.

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The teams separating the Wild from the Wings?  The Anaheim Ducks, who the Wild split their four-game series with this season, though the Ducks collected more points in those four games courtesy of the Wild’s generosity; the Dallas Stars, who lead the season series against the Wild 2-1; the St. Louis Blues, again, leading the season series 2-1; and the Calgary Flames, whom the Wild have been the Flames daddy this season. To steal a Milbury-ism…I feel dirty now.

I know what you’re thinking right now.

“We get it.  It’s going to be tough.”

Well, you’re exactly right.  It’s going to be very, very tough.  But, in comparison, we have it easier than these four teams do.

The basic rundown is this:

Anaheim has 19 games remaining, 15 of which are against teams that are either in or challenging for the playoffs.

Dallas has 19 games remaining, 18 of which are against teams either in or challenging for the playoffs.

St. Louis?  Eighteen and 14.  Calgary?  Nineteen and 18.

Meanwhile, Minnesota is looking at 20 games remaining and 15 against teams in or challenging for the playoffs.  While it may not be much, that extra game against the Edmonton Oilers could be looking pretty nice by the time April 10’s game against the Stars rolls around.

Don’t get me wrong.  It’s not going to be a cakewalk.  But, right now, all the Wild can do is take care of business and let the chips fall where they may and they are currently in a pretty good position for those chips to fall in their favor.

The one thing that the Wild has going against them is that ten of their remaining 20 games are on the road.

On the road this season, the Wild has a 10-19-2 record, good for 28th best in the league.  To put it another way—winning on the road hasn’t been their strong suit.  In fact, the Wild have won just three of their last ten on the road.

But it’s not all bad news.

Hockey-Reference.com is listing their probably cutoff for what will be needed to get into the playoffs at 91.7 (or, essentially, 92 points).  In order to get to the 92 point mark, the Wild need to win 13 of their last 20.

Easy?  No.  Doable?  Absolutely.

If, by hook or by crook, the team can get ten points in their road games, they have to get eight wins at home.  Again, not easy but doable—especially considering that the team has the league’s seventh best home record.

Statistically, we can break this down.  Minnesota has a .355 percent point percentage on the road, while they have a .710 percent point percentage at home.

By the percentages, the Wild will gain 14 points at home in the remainder of their games and seven on the road.

Twenty-one points.  Close, but no cigar.  BUT, factor in that seven of their remaining 20 games are against their division against whom they are 12-5-0 and now we’re talking. 

Granted, all of this statistical mumbo jumbo doesn’t mean a whole lot now.  But it gives the team a glimmer of hope, and sometimes a glimmer is all that a team needs.

They have a general manager who, by all rights should have tried to get as much as he could out of everyone he could at the trade deadline, but instead looked at the team that he had and said “We can do this.”

They have a veteran who has plainly said, I believe in this team and I believe we can beat anyone in this league.

And they have their backs up against the wall.

Three factors that make me look at the statistical analysis and say, “To hell with it.”

I still stand by my assertion that the Minnesota Wild will make the playoffs this season.  Stranger things have certainly happened.

But I do know one thing for certain.  No matter whether or not the Wild are gearing up for a playoff series on April 11 or getting ready to clean out their lockers, they will give their fans an effort and a showing to be proud of.