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Minnesota Wild Appears Playoff-Bound

Just over a month ago, we wrote in this space that the trade for Devan Dubnyk was likely just what the Minnesota Wild needed to help revive their season. And three weeks ago, we noted how the early returns on Dubnyk—in addition to the improved play around him—had Mike Yeo’s squad lined up nicely to make a feverish push for a playoff spot.

So far, so good for the Wild. The notion that Dubnyk would trigger a turnaround in the State of Hockey has already proven to be more than correct. And the idea that they were playoff bound—while once a somewhat far-fetched idea—seems pretty likely now.

This all leads to one final, simple question: can Minnesota keep this going long enough to finish the job and actually lock down a spot in the postseason?

 

It would certainly appear so, if the play of Dubnyk between the pipes is any indication. Before the deal, the Wild were floundering, but they were still at least within striking distance of a playoff spot. If not, none of this would even be possible. In fact, they might not have even made the deal with Arizona in the first place. But they were hanging around (barely) with very inconsistent play in net, and that has changed dramatically.

On January 13, Minnesota dropped a 7-2 decision to the Pittsburgh Penguins. That marked a sixth consecutive defeat for Yeo’s group – a stretch in which they allowed an eye-popping 29 goals.

The next day, they swung the deal for Dubnyk, and promptly began the biggest turnaround in the NHL this season. Dubnyk was already much improved from years past in his short time with the Coyotes, having worked closely with goalie guru Sean Burke in the desert. And he has been absolutely dominant since arriving in Minnesota. Just how dominant?

Is there maybe a little hyperbole at play here? Um, no. How does a 13-2-1 record with a 1.64 goals against average, a .936 save percentage and five shutouts sound? Five shutouts – in 17 games.

In case you were randomly wondering, the NHL record for shutouts in a single season is 22, and it was only set 86 years ago by George Hainsworth. If Dubnyk blanked opponents at his current rate over a full 82-game schedule, he’d post 24. That’s impossible since there are only 23 games left, but you get the point. Even if he just kept his other numbers going for a full year without the absurd shutout total, he’d still be a leading candidate for the Vezina.

In other words, the Dubnyk deal has worked out for the Wild. It’s not the only reason they’re winning though. Since Jan. 14, Minnesota is scoring 3.23 goals per game. And the production is coming from a number of different players.

Zach Parise leads the way with 11 goals in those 17 games, but a total of 18 players have lit the lamp at least once in that stretch. Getting guys like Mikael Granlund back from injury have helped, though the team suffered a considerable setback when Jason Zucker went down earlier this month.

In general, many players that could have been labeled as slightly underachieving in the first half of the season have stepped up. Thomas Vanek, in particular, has 13 points in is last 17 contests. It’s not as if Vanek was bad to start the year, he just wasn’t providing the offensive pop that he has in every other year of his NHL career. He’s looking more like his normal self now though, Parise is back and rolling and the club as a whole is getting production from role players – an absolute must-have at this point in this season.

Wild

When the Wild began this run, they were 42 games into an 82-game season. Just passed the halfway point, meaning they still had time to fix things, but the window was closing fast. At the time, they trailed 11 teams in the Western Conference, and sat seven points out of the final wild card spot. Following their six-goal third period outburst to secure a victory over Dallas on Sunday night, they find themselves in the second wild card spot. And now they’re just two points behind a scuffling Winnipeg squad for the sixth-best record in the conference. What a difference five weeks makes.

That final point might be the most important. Minnesota’s mid-season revival has happened remarkably quickly – but it almost had to, if the playoffs were the goal. With March 2 rapidly approaching, the Wild at least know they’re contending again. If they had stumbled for even two weeks longer, they may have had to consider the possibility of selling off a piece or two at the trade deadline.

Now, they might even be able to add someone. And, while a playoff berth is far from a given – especially in the Central Division – they’re entering the final quarter of the season with a ton of momentum.

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