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Updated: March 28th, 2013 8:29am
Myers: Here we go again? Situation is similar for Wild but the team isn't

Myers: Here we go again? Situation is similar for Wild but the team isn't

by Jess Myers
1500ESPN.com

ST. PAUL, Minn. -- Fifteen months, two big free-agent signings and many, many other things later, here we are again.

The Minnesota Wild just beat Phoenix for their seventh win in a row. The odds say they're all but a lock to make the playoffs. And if you watched this team last season, you should be getting a nervous tick right about now.

On the night of Dec. 10, 2011, the Wild went to Glendale, Ariz., and beat the Coyotes 4-1. It was their seventh win in a row. They were leading the NHL and had better than 90 percent odds of making the playoffs. Then it all fell apart. The Wild had won 20 of their first 30 games. They would win 15 the rest of the season, and miss the playoffs for the fourth consecutive season.

So why were there so many smiles and so little feeling off doom on Wednesday after the Wild needed to rally in the final minute of regulation, just to tie the free-falling Coyotes, then needed an overtime goal by Mikko Koivu to win the game, 4-3, in overtime.

Because that was then, and this is now.

"This is a different team. It's a different situation. Different everything," said Wild forward Matt Cullen, who scored into an inadvertent empty net in the second period on Wednesday, when Coyotes goalie Jason LaBarbera tried to clear a puck from behind the net and put it right on Cullen's stick. "We're a better team."

They're definitely a team with more grit, as evidenced by what happened in the most recent win.

The Coyotes are a mess.

After making an inspiring run to the Western Conference Finals last spring, and supposedly securing an owner that would keep them in Arizona (the team has been owned by the NHL for several years), they're right back to square one, struggling on the ice, often playing in a half-empty building, and dealing almost daily with rumors and reports of impending relocation to somewhere like Seattle or Kansas City or Quebec City.

They came to St. Paul riding a six-game losing streak and sinking out of sight quickly in the playoff race.

So when the Wild build a 2-0 lead in the second period, "game over" is certainly what most of the 19,000-plus in attendance (including a notable hoard of Winnipeg Jets fans, apparently here to see the franchise that abandoned Manitoba in 1996) were thinking.

But the Coyotes rallied, tying the score in the second and taking a 3-2 lead early in the third. And few coaches are better at hanging onto a lead by any means necessary than Phoenix boss Dave Tippett. The Coyotes were 5-0-1 in their past six trips to St. Paul before Wednesday, and went into full shut-down mode.

That's when, for one of the rare times this season, we saw some desperation from the Wild.

"Pretty simple story," Wild coach Mike Yeo said. "We had a few individuals who said, 'We're not going to lose that game' tonight."

So Niklas Backstrom went to the bench and Koivu fed a pass to Jared Spurgeon, who fed a pass to Ryan Suter and Suter blasted a shot at, and past, LaBarbera for his first home goal for the Wild.

"I've scored here before, just not for this team," Suter said, to howls of laughter in the locker room. "It felt good, but the most important thing is getting the win. That's all that matters. You're not going to be at your best every night. There's too many games in too short a time. The good teams recognize when they're not and keep it simple. We were able to keep it simple and come back."

So here they are, once again, having beaten Phoenix, having won seven in a row. They're not the top team in the NHL, or even in the Western Conference, but the stat geeks say they've got a 99 percent chance of continuing to play once the regular season ends.

Everything is the same. Except in all of the ways that this time it's so, so different.

Jess Myers covers the Wild and college hockey for 1500ESPN.com. He is a member of the editorial advisory board for USA Hockey Magazine.
Email Jess | @JessRMyers
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