Myers: With regular season over, it's on to the real fun for Wild
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ST. PAUL, Minn. -- If it's April and these are the Minnesota Wild, you best get to know Mountain Time.
On Sunday we learned that the final game of the regular season (when your playoff fate is already set) is about as meaningful as the preseason. And we also learned that for the third time in the five seasons the Wild have made the playoffs, they will be facing the Colorado Avalanche.
The postseason officially begins on Thursday night in Denver when, at 8:30 p.m. Central Time, the Wild will face the Avs, who took advantage of a late swoon by the St. Louis Blues to win the new Central Division.
The regular season ended in an ugly way, with the Wild turning a seemingly-comfortable 3-1 lead in the second period into a lopsided 7-3 loss to the Nashville Predators. Perhaps it was a kind of parting gift for Preds coach Barry Trotz, who has been behind the Nashville bench since the franchise started in 1998, and is expected to be ousted soon.
For the Wild, who learned earlier in the day that they'd be headed to the Front Range for their first two playoff games, escaping with good health was the only thing of any real not that happened on the rink Sunday.
"You always have in the back of your mind you don't want to get hurt, you don't want to take one off the ankle and who knows what happens," said Wild forward Jason Pominville, who had a goal - his team-leading 30th of the season - and assisted on both of the others. It's the third time in his career that Pominville has reached the 30-goal mark, and unlike last season, he heads into the playoffs healthy. "So sometimes it leads to those results and obviously it wasn't pretty. It wasn't the way we want to end it and I don't want to make an excuse for it, but I think those things when happen when you're in and the other team is out, playing loose."
And if history is any guide, playing loose will be the key to a playoff matchup with Colorado. They first met in the 2003 playoffs, when the Wild notched their first-ever playoff series win, knocking off the heavily-favored Avs in seven games after trailing 3-1 in the series. The final goal of the series was perhaps the most memorable moment in Wild franchise history, as Andrew Brunette - now a Wild assistant coach - beat Avs legend Patrick Roy in overtime to clinch the series. Roy is now in his first season as Colorado's head coach.
Five years later the 2003 playoff run, after the Wild's only Northwest Division title, Colorado returned the "first round upset" favor, knocking Minnesota out in six games. So if history favors the underdog, it's good news for the Wild, who will play games one and two at the Pepsi Center in downtown Denver.
"This is a good team. A really good team," said Wild coach Mike Yeo, in his initial assessment of the playoff foe. "Winning their division, the way that we've gone from start to finish, this is a team that we have to have a lot of respect for. Skill level. Very dynamic. Very creative. So obviously defensively it's going to be a challenge for us. With that, they're an in-your-face team and how we execute is going to be very important too."
The Wild were 1-3-1 versus Colorado in the regular season, but often everything changes in the playoffs. There was perhaps a hint of that transformation on the ice Sunday. Formerly known for dirty play and fights, Matt Cooke has been a changed man with the Wild in the regular season, but mixed things up a bit on Sunday, getting under the skin of at least a few Predators. It was maybe a preview of what we'll see on Thursday in the playoffs, when agitators notoriously play a bigger role when you're facing the same team for a week or two.
"This is what I feel like my game is best suited for," Cooke said. "Now we're going to play four, five, six, seven games in a row against one team. That changes the dynamic of things. During the regular season, you play one game and move on to the next team. This is a fun time for me. I enjoy this the most."
After a long cold winter, welcome to spring, welcome to the playoffs, and welcome to the real NHL fun.