Alexander Shun | @alexpshun
Digital Content Manager | KFAN.com
If you talk to Minnesota Wild fans, the sky is falling and their team is setting them up for potentially the biggest heartbreak or collapse ever. The reality is, things aren't as bad as they seem.
Minnesota has lost five-straight games and eight of their last 10, dropping them to second in the Western Conference and seven points behind the now streaking Chicago Blackhawks who, conversely, have won five-straight games.
While many fans are quick to push the panic button, perhaps they should hold off on doing so until they take a closer look at the team's recent stretch of games.
Their March started with a close 1-0 loss to the Columbus Blue Jackets (tied for first in the Eastern Conference and the NHL) and was followed up with a solid 3-1 victory over the San Jose Sharks (third-best team in the West). The St. Louis Blues (seventh in the West) edged the Wild 2-1 before Minnesota suffered their first bad loss of the month, losing 4-1 to the reeling Tampa Bay Lightning. Then, after a dominant 7-4 victory over the lackluster Florida Panthers, the Wild's losing streak began.
Minnesota's losing streak has consisted of losses to the Blackhawks, the Washington Capitals who are tied with Columbus for the league lead in points, the young Carolina Hurricanes, a very good New York Rangers team (4th in the Eastern Conference) and then a loss Sunday night to the lowly Winnipeg Jets.
For the most part, they have played very good teams - playoff contending teams - and they have lost. Is that a promising sign heading into the playoffs? Certainly not, especially considering Wild Head Coach Bruce Boudreau's playoff record, but this team is not on the verge of collapse, they just need time to practice.
Boudreau spoke last week about the high number of games in such a limited number of days which forces coaches to decide whether to give the team rest or get them together for practice, and Boudreau has decided that his team needs practice, especially given the number of critical and uncharacteristic mistakes that the Wild have recently made late in games.
"When you see teams, when they go on losing streaks, they'll say, 'Well we need a couple of good practices,'" Boudreau said last week. "That's what we need. We need a couple of good practices."
Having played 10 games in 19 days, seven of which were on the road and included two back-to-backs, the Wild's schedule will ease up a bit in that they'll have more home games which will require less travel, but the volume of games will remain the same.
The Wild have 11 games remaining in the regular season, seven of which are at home, but they'll play all 11 of them in the next 20 days, truly testing the stamina and staying power of this Minnesota team before they hit the playoffs.
Minnesota needs six points to lock up their spot in the playoffs and with three games at home this week against the Sharks, Flyers and Canucks, the Wild could very well be celebrating their playoff berth come next Sunday.
Things do look bleak right now and the Wild couldn't have possibly picked a worse time to play their worst hockey, but they did just finish a road trip and have failed to practice as much as usual. Not to mention that many teams are fighting for their playoff lives or fighting for playoff seeding making every game an absolute battle.
The Blackhawks have been in this position before and they're excelling, winning their games and beginning to run away with the Western Conference. Minnesota has never truly been the 'favorite' before, and for much of the season, that was where they sat. Now that such a weight is slowly being lifted, they can get back to playing fundamentally sound hockey just like they were doing earlier in the season.
Should the Wild continue to lose and slide out of the second spot in the Western Conference, there will be legitimate reason for concern, but let's hold off on sounding the alarms until we see how this once-proven resilient Wild squad responds when they arrive back home to close the regular season.