With the Wild's 3-0 loss against the Sharks and the Avalanche losing in Nashville 4-3 to the Predators, the magic number has been reduced to 0 and the Wild have secured a spot in the the Stanley Cup Playoffs. This will be the Wild's 4th consecutive trip to the post season and marks the third season in a row that the Central Division will send five teams to the playoffs. The Wild join the Stars, Blues, Blackhawks and Predators, who had previously claimed their spot. The Avalanche are the final Western Conference team to be eliminated and the Western Conference bracket is all but set to enter the first round.
It is now known that the Wild are set in the second Wild Card Spot with Nashville's win against the Avalanche putting them out of the Wild's reach. Chicago has also put themselves out of Nashville's reach, so the final three slots are set in the Central Division. The Wild will face the Central Division champs, the Blackhawks will face the runner-up and the Predators will head to the western bracket to face the champions of the Pacific Division in either the Kings or Ducks.
The only remaining question is who will come out on top in the Central. The Blues and Stars are tied at 105 points with matching 48-23-9 records. The Blues have a tougher road that leads through Chicago to a home finale with the President's Trophy runaway Washington Capitals. The Stars finish at home against the Avalanche and Predators. This race could very well go to the final day or even end up in a tie. In that case, the Stars would hold the first tiebreaker with more ROW than the Blues. Therefore, all models currently predict that the Stars will come out on top and be the Wild's opponent in the first round.
It will be interesting to see how the Wild approach the final game against the Calgary Flames. There are a few players who are a little banged up and Devan Dubnyk has now started nine consecutive games. Last season the Wild rode Dubnyk even harder as they battled to get into the playoffs and chose to give him a day off prior to the start of the first round. Dubnyk wasn't as crisp upon his return as he had been riding the epic streak we are so familiar with last season. This year Dubnyk hasn't been quite as hot, though he had put together a really nice string of games prior to the losses against Ottawa and Detroit. Kuemper hasn't faired well, losing three of his last 4 decisions, but the Wild may be perfectly happy to rest Dubnyk and accept whatever fate brings them now that their playoff berth is secure. The Wild are also carrying a few extra forwards so some of the big minute guys should be able to get a rest. The Wild will also really want to get Jared Spurgeon and Thomas Vanek in over the last two games to get their compete level ready for the first round.
We will continue to ramp up our coverage heading into the playoffs, so keep your eye out for full previews, predictions, player analysis and more in the coming weeks.
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