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Updated: April 21st, 2013 9:56pm
Myers: Pressure is ratcheting up for reeling, playoff-starved Wild

Myers: Pressure is ratcheting up for reeling, playoff-starved Wild

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by Jess Myers
1500ESPN.com

ST. PAUL, Minn. - The NHL playoffs, at least as far as the Minnesota Wild are concerned, are starting to seem a little like springtime in the State of Hockey. They're supposed to be here right around this time of year, but like green grass and sunshine and buds on the trees, they're proving to be elusive as this wintertime funk lingers on and on.

The Calgary Flames that visited Xcel Energy Center on Sunday evening looked very little like the Northwest Division team that has so often vexed the Wild. Miikka Kiprusoff was on the bench. Curtis Glencross was in the pressbox, in a nice suit. Jay Bouwmeester plays in St. Louis now. Jarome Iginla plays in Pittsburgh. In their places was an odd collection of AHL talent and third-line guys looking to make an impression with coach Bob Hartley and company, knowing that Calgary's playoff hopes died weeks ago.

And yet, that rag-tag collection of guys was able to delay, and potentially derail, the Wild's playoff hopes. There's clearly something to be said for playing loose and having fun - Calgary style - as opposed to playing with an iron-fisted grip on the sticks. The Wild threw the puck around with abandon, getting more than 30 shots on Calgary goalie Joey MacDonald, and thrilling the sellout crowd with many, many near-misses. Instead of a much needed win to bring them one step closer to the first playoff berth since 2008, they got a disheartening 4-1 loss, falling to 0-4-1 in their last five home games.

Zach Parise, who scored the only goal, tying the game 1-1 in the first period, was in no mood to talk silver linings or hope when it was all over.

"At this time, you get kind of tired about trying to search for positives," he said. "We want to win games, and that's a game we needed to win. Unfortunately we didn't and now we can't afford any more mistakes the way things are, the way things are shaping up right now."

The mistakes were few and far between, but very costly. The Wild would dominate the offensive zone for long stretches, testing MacDonald and stretching the Flames defense, but not scoring. Then Calgary would get a break and score, quickly and decisively, with three power play goals for the night. It would be easy to place at least some of the blame on goalie Niklas Backstrom, who is second in the NHL with 22 of the Wild's 24 wins this season. He's refused to take a night off for weeks, and has looked tired from time to time. Wild coach Mike Yeo says there's no issue between the pipes.

"I'm not concerned about Backy, no," Yeo said. "That's one thing that this guy has proven over and over again, the way he prepares and commits himself, that he's a professional, he's a veteran. Those are the guys that you want in this situation."

Still, with three games, and the Wild now increasingly desperate to win at least two of them and secure a first round playoff date with either Anaheim or Chicago, there's suddenly been a dramatic ratcheting up of the pressure, thanks to Sunday's unexpected and costly no-show.

"Well, we certainly don't seem to like doing things the easy way," Wild coach Mike Yeo said. "If we're going to sit here and pretend that other teams aren't feeling the same thing, then you're kidding yourself. That's part of the challenge. You should actually relish that."

It's like springtime in Minnesota - something to be relished, even if it takes forever to get here.

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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