Minnesota’s resent surge of playoff success continues with the Minnesota Wild clinching a playoff spot on the final day of the NHL season. It took a 3-1 win at Colorado for the Wild to grab -the eighth and final Western Conference playoff spot and win a tie-breaker over Columbus. It’s the first playoff appearance for the Wild since 2007.
It’s a been a long time coming, but Minnesota sports teams, after a few lean years, have been making a bit of a comeback. The Lynx started that comeback two years ago by winning the WNBA Championship; last year they were a WNBA Finalist. The Vikings clinched a playoff spot last year, going 10-6 with Adrian Peterson, the NFL MVP.
Tubby Smith’s men’s Gopher basketball team clinched an NCAA tournament bid after starting 15-1 and playing the nation’s toughest schedule, beating UCLA for the first time in school history in the NCAA tournament.
Now the Wild, who made the incredible national splash and statement last summer of signing two great players, Zach Parise and Ryan Suter, for $200 million, have returned to the Stanley Cup playoffs. So the state of hockey is good, because making the playoffs is what it’s all about. It has not been easy for the Wild — after being in first place in the Northwest Division on March 30, they almost blew a playoff spot. Of 14 games in April, they won only five.
It’s great to be back in the playoffs, however — it’s been a long time. The lockout-shortened 48-game season was a sprint with no training camp. Some teams were able to overcome that fact, but many were not. So, Minnesota, celebrate your one of the 16 teams with a chance to win Lord Stanley’s Cup, the oldest championship trophy in professional sports.
The Wild are the only playoff qualifier with a plus-minus of five goals in the all-important goals-scored-for-and-against ratio. Their first-round opponent? Whew! It’s the league’s top team, the Chicago Blackhawks. By comparison, the Blackhawks were a plus 53! The Blackhawks were 36-7-5 with 77 points, best in the NHL, while the Wild were 26-19-3 with 55.
The Wild and Blackhawks played three times during the regular season. Chicago won two of three games for five points. The Wild gained two points with a shootout win. Two of the three games were in St. Paul.
This best-of-seven series on paper is a mismatch considering the obvious plus 53 for Chicago and minus five for Minnesota, total points 77 to 55. Chicago out-scored the Wild by 33 goals and allowed 25 fewer goals, so they are, as they should be, a huge favorite.
But as they say, that’s why they play the games, and we will soon see, because anything can happen in the playoffs. The series starts Tuesday, April 30 in Chicago with game one; game two is Friday, also in Chicago. Game three is Sunday, 2 pm at Xcel Center in St. Paul, and game four is Tuesday, 8.30 pm at Xcel Center. For tickets, good luck — call 1-800-745-3000.
I expect a good, tough series. These are two good hockey clubs, and the Wild, with the huge investment in Parise and Suter and their veteran playoff experience and leadership, could be the big equalizer. Remember, just last year the Los Angeles Kings won the Cup and were the eighth seed, as the Wild are in the Western Conference. However, I’m taking Chicago in six games.
Let’s play hockey!
Larry Fitzgerald can be heard weekday mornings on KMOJ Radio 89.9 FM at 8:25 am, on WDGY-AM 740 Monday-Friday at 12:17 pm and 4:17 pm, and at www.Gamedaygold.com. He also commentates on sports 7-8 pm on Almanac (TPT channel 2). Follow him on Twitter at FitzBeatSr. Larry welcomes reader responses to firstname.lastname@example.org, or visit www.Larry-Fitzgerald.com.