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Updated: April 23rd, 2013 11:36pm
Myers: Letting dirty shot slide doesn't bode well for Wild in playoffs

Myers: Letting dirty shot slide doesn't bode well for Wild in playoffs

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by Jess Myers
1500ESPN.com

ST. PAUL, Minn. -- What happened on the scoreboard on Tuesday at the Xcel Energy Center, where the final score read Wild 2, Kings 1, will go a long way towards Minnesota's NHL club likely getting into the playoffs for the first time since 2008.

What happened on the ice is a sign the Wild's streak of not winning a playoff series since 2003 could very well stretch into a second decade, for two reasons.

With two games remaining, the Wild need to win one of them, or lose both of them in overtime, or lose both of them in a shootout, or lose one in overtime and another in a shootout, and they're in.

Any combination of two points -- no matter what Dallas, Detroit or Columbus do -- and the Wild will be in the postseason for the first time since Jacques Lemaire, with his perfect French Canadian hockey accent, was delivering the postgame quotes.

That they will have to win four times versus either Anaheim or Chicago to advance past the first round is their first problem.

Their second challenge stems from what happened in the second period on Tuesday, and what the Wild did about it. Or didn't.

They lost puck-moving forward Jason Pominville when Dustin Brown put a hard elbow directly into the Wild newcomer's chin. Pominville crumpled to the ice, then was helped off and did not return. The officials, other than whistling the play dead long enough for Pominville to get to the dressing room, did nothing.

The men in stripes can claim they didn't see the play. Nobody on the Wild made that claim, but the fact that the men in Iron Range red also did nothing is the alarming omen when put into the context of playoff viability.

While the postseason does not start for a week, the officials -- referees Dan O'Rourke and Don VanMassenhoven -- were in full playoff "let 'em play" mode on Tuesday, allowing a hit like Brown's to go uncalled, allowing for plenty of clutching and holding, and calling two penalties the entire game.

In case Wild fans have forgotten (which is understandable at this point), that's the way of the playoffs.

The Kings figured that out quickly on Tuesday and weren't afraid to slow down the Wild by any means available all night. The Wild played a much cleaner game on a night when that was ill-advised.

Their refusal to play slow-down hockey was nearly disastrous, as the Kings put a dozen shots on Niklas Backstrom in the final 20 minutes and came within inches of tying the game on a few occasions.

Looking ahead to next week, the Wild should be prepped to deal with obstruction and to take offensive chances wherever they can get them. In the playoffs, whining about calls or non-calls gets you nothing. And when somebody hurts a teammate, the opponent should have to watch its collective back.

That Brown was allowed to play another 10 shifts or so after the Pominville hit, without so much as an uncomfortable run into the end boards by a Wild player, perhaps can be passed off as a team so desperate for two points that players were not willing to risk an instigator penalty (and the ensuing Kings power play that would've come from it) to exact some revenge.

Cal Clutterbuck, who is usually at the top of the NHL charts for hits, scored the game-winning goal on Tuesday. And despite seeing what had happened to his teammate via Brown's elbow pad facial, Clutterbuck kept calm in the third period.

"I saw an elbow in the face," Clutterbuck said, admitting that keeping emotions in check after seeing a teammate go down was a challenge. "It's difficult. But at the same time, we had a clear goal in mind and we couldn't really allow ourselves to get distracted."

Brown claimed later that he had position, and the puck, along the boards.

"I haven't seen it yet, but I had the puck on my stick, he's coming to hit me and I'm just bracing myself," Brown said.

Explanations aside, Brown is likely to at minimum get a call from the NHL on Wednesday, and many predict he'll be serving a suspension when the Kings visit the Red Wings later than night.

Wild coach Mike Yeo would only say that he hates to see a player go down. When asked if he had to restrain his team from exacting revenge on Brown, there was only a cursory response.

"We're going to worry about Edmonton right now," Yeo said, looking ahead to the Wild's final regular-season home game on Friday. "We'll deal with that after."

Maybe that was the smart play, letting the Brown hit slide, showing restraint, keeping five men on the ice and wrapping up those two points. Perhaps they showed a lot of intelligence.

This Wild team has brains and skill. You need both to get to the playoffs. And when you get there, to advance, you need lots of heart, too.

Heart is displayed by playing though pain and finding the stamina for one last hard shift when overtimes drag on and on. It comes from standing your ground in front of the net killing penalties and sacrificing your body (including, sometimes, your teeth) to block shots.

Heart is also displayed when a cheap shot takes out a teammate and others stand up to the hitter, sending a message that a price will be paid for such transgressions.

The Wild played with their brains and their talents on Tuesday and marched to the brink of the playoffs. To succeed there, when their skill players are inevitably challenged by opponents from Anaheim or Chicago, the Wild will need to show an added dose of heart.

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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