For the second time in franchise history, the Minnesota Wild have made the playoffs in consecutive years. And like the last time, which came in 2008, they will square off against the Colorado Avalanche – which have been a common foe throughout the Wild’s spotty playoff history.
The big difference this time around, aside from the NHL’s bizarre new playoff seeding format, is that Colorado Hall-of-Famer Patrick Roy is now calling the shots from behind the bench instead of from in the goal.
But while Colorado is no longer the powerhouse team they were a decade ago, they still pulled off a remarkable worst to first season and are once again looking to frustrate the Wild’s plans to advance in the playoffs. They have not done so since they upset Mr. Roy’s Avalanche in 2003’s run to the conference finals.
While the homegrown Minnesota sports fan in me is instinctively pondering ways the Wild might potentially blow their chance, there are several reasons to be optimistic about the team’s chances of scoring their first playoff win in a decade.
First, whenever these two teams have met in the playoffs, the lower seeded team has always won. In 2003, the sixth-seeded Wild knocked off the Avalanche in the aforementioned first round upset. Then, in 2008, on the heels of their first (and only) division title, the Wild earned the three seed, only to be knocked off by sixth-seeded Colorado in the first round.
So if history is any guide, the 2014 Wild – who hold the four seed – stand well positioned to keep the upset pattern going.
The other, less coincidental reason why the Wild have a fighting chance is that they are fundamentally built more like a successful playoff team than Colorado at this stage.
If I’ve learned anything from watching Alex Ovechkin and the Washington Capitals play over the last six years, it’s that having a fast-skating, high-scoring offense in the regular season does not translate into playoff success.
Teams like this, and Colorado certainly fits the mold, are prone to being manhandled over the course of a playoff series by bigger and tougher teams that are more scrappy and defensive-minded – like the Wild.
Over the past year, the Wild have managed to successfully transform themselves from a perpetually average squad into a well-rounded group that matches up well against anybody in a playoff series.
This was highlighted by last year’s opening round loss to Chicago. Though this was inevitable considering the caliber of the opponent, the Wild did manage to play them much closer than many had imagined when considering how they barely snuck into the playoffs to begin with.
The Wild successfully carried that momentum into this year, and it could pay dividends against the very green Avalanche unit.
But while Colorado’s youthfulness and lack of postseason play is being cast as its Achilles’ Heel, the Wild are sporting a goaltender whom they signed off of the street, so there certainly is no premise for arrogance here.
Though one must always take these intangible metrics and pre-series prognostications with a grain of salt, the Wild-Avs series looks, on paper, like one that Minnesota can win. Should that happen, let us brace ourselves for more riots in Dinkytown.