Myers: Wild continue to prove they'll be a tough draw in playoffs
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ST. PAUL, Minn. - Even when there's no drama, the Minnesota Wild manage to find some.
It was over. The season-long quest for the playoffs was clinched even before the Wild took to the ice for the third period on Tuesday. When Columbus scored in overtime, beating Phoenix 4-3, the Wild were in. There was very little to play for, with the NHL's best team in town, and the powerful Boston Bruins holding a 3-2 lead with 20 minutes to play.
Playing for the third time in four nights, at home the night after a road game, it was time to take it easy, play out the string, and head back to the locker room, 20 minutes later, to celebrate.
But that's not the way this Wild team does business, apparently. There's got to be drama. A year ago, when they faded down the stretch, they needed some help, and took until the last minute of the last game of the regular season to clinch a playoff spot. Not this time. This time they were determined to settle things on their own terms.
"That was the message since before the game. The message was let's not wait for anything. Let's not back our way into anything. Let's not come through the back door. Let's go charging through the front door," said Wild coach Mike Yeo. "And what a better way to do it against a team like Boston. And then even know that we know we're in the playoffs, down a goal, playing the night before, against a team that was sitting here waiting for us, to see our guys go after it, good on them."
It was still 3-2 for the Bruins with 90 seconds to play when Illya Bryzgalov headed to the bench, staring at the prospect of his first regulation loss with the Wild since coming over from Edmonton at the trade deadline. But with 1:05 to play, when a sloppy Bruins shift and a hard-charging Wild group of six capitalized, with Ryan Suter slipping a shot past Boston goalie Tuukka Rask to forge another tie, it was clear that the Wild weren't backing into anything.
The Wild's fight, with not much to play for, was noted not only the 18,000-plus in attendance, but those on the visitors' bench.
"To me I was really impressed with the effort, especially in the third period," Bruins coach Claude Julien said. "Third game in four nights, and there's some desperation there, and you want to clinch. You find that energy somewhere and I thought there was some pretty good energy in the third period."
In the brief overtime, the Wild tested Rask repeatedly, forcing him to make six saves - two of them spectacular glove numbers. In the shootout, the only goal came from Mikko Koivu's deadly backhand beating fellow Finn Rask, as the Wild not only clinched a playoff spot, but clinched the top wildcard spot.
"I was trying to figure out what he was going to do and couldn't remember," Rask said, recalling Koivu's approach to the net in the shootout. "I remembered afterward."
So with two more home games to play, they're in, with the seventh spot locked up. Anaheim and St. Louis are battling for the top spot in the Western Conference. Whichever among that pair finishes second will host the Wild in round one.
"It's all about where you want to be. It's what you've played for throughout the season," said Jason Pominville, who scored two goals in the first period. Pominville, you'll recall, was injured late last season and played in just two of the Wild's five playoff games. He's looking forward to more this time. "We've had ups and downs, we've had injuries, we've had goalies get hurt, a lot of different guys in the lineup. I think we did a good job staying even-keeled, not getting frustrated when times were tough, and it paid off. It's nice to be where we want to be."
The Wild host the Blues on Thursday and the Predators on Sunday. One would expect the lineup will look different, as Yeo may take the chance to rest some players, to maybe give new defenseman Christian Folin his first opportunity, and to maybe give oft-scratched veteran Dany Heatley one last opportunity. There's a little rest coming, and they've earned it.
"Obviously, that's what you want. You don't want to have to wait for the last day like last year," Suter said. "We have to continue to play well, though. I don't think we have to take the next two games off, but just slow down. I think it'll be a good test for us preparation-wise."
And knowing the Wild, they'll find some way to work in a little drama.