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Could the Wild be this year's version of two playoff Cinderellas?

The Wild have plenty of similarities between the 2022-23 Florida Panthers and the 2018-19 St. Louis Blues.
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The Minnesota Wild's season has been a roller coaster but they still find themselves in the thick of the Western Conference playoff race after Saturday night's 3-2 shootout loss to the St. Louis Blues. 

The Wild are three points behind the Vegas Golden Knights for the final wild card spot in the West and with 14 games to go, their current standing doesn't indicate that a long playoff run is coming. 

But there are two recent teams Minnesota could hope to emulate to make a Cinderella run through the Stanley Cup Playoffs and the Wild happen to have similarities to both of them as they head down the stretch.

2022-23 Florida Panthers

At this time a year ago, the Panthers were in a similar spot as the Wild. They were three points behind the Pittsburgh Penguins for the final wild card spot in the Eastern Conference and needed to start collecting wins to get in.

The Panthers won their next two games before going on a four-game losing streak that put their season on the brink. But Florida righted the ship with a 3-2 overtime win over the Toronto Maple Leafs and went on a six-game winning streak which helped the Panthers leap the Penguins for the final playoff spot.

The Panthers had to have some help from Pittsburgh to get in but there were the makings of a playoff contender. Florida was fueled by a legitimate superstar in Matthew Tkachuk, who finished the year with 40 goals, 69 assists and 109 points but Tkachuk took his game to another level with nine goals and nine assists in the final 14 games.

Florida also had a balanced offensive attack that included five players with 60 or more points including Tkachuk, Aleksander Barkov (78 points), Carter Verhaeghe (73 points), Brandon Montour (73 points) and Sam Reinhart (67 points).

The Panthers also had a veteran goaltender in Sergei Bobrovsky. While the 34-year-old was behind Alex Lyon in the final weeks of the regular season, he had 51 games of playoff experience to bank on behind his 3.07 goals-against average and .901 save percentage in the regular season.

When the playoffs started, Lyon lost two of the first three games in the quarterfinals against the Boston Bruins before Bobrovsky took over. Bobrovsky didn't relinquish the job until the Stanley Cup Finals, going 12-6 with a 2.78 goals against average and .915 save percentage in 18 starts.

With Tkachuk posting 24 points (11 goals, 13 assists) in 21 playoff games, the Panthers defeated the Bruins in seven games, the Maple Leafs in five games and swept the Carolina Hurricanes before losing to Vegas in a five-game Stanley Cup Final.

2018-19 St. Louis Blues

If Wild fans want to go with a happier ending, they can look no further than the franchise they saw on Saturday night.

The Blues fired Mike Yeo after a 7-9-3 start in 2018 before hiring Craig Berube as his replacement. Berube jumpstarted the Blues to a 38-19-6 record the rest of the way and won eight of their final 10 games heading into the playoffs.

St. Louis didn't have the offensive firepower that last year's Panthers had with Ryan O'Reilly (77 points) and Vladimir Tarasenko (68 points) the only two players on the roster with more than 60 points. But they did have a solid supporting cast with Brayden Schenn (54 points), David Perron (46 points) and Alex Pietrangelo (41 points).

The Blues also had the trump card that sparks most playoff runs – a white-hot goaltender.

Jordan Binnington took over and dominated between the pipes down the stretch, posting a 24-5-1 record with a 1.89 GAA and .927 save percentage in the regular season. Binnington stayed hot with a 16-10 record, 2.46 GAA and .914 save percentage in the playoff but he was complemented by an offense that saw eight different players record 10 or more points.

With Jaden Schwartz stepping up for 20 points in 26 playoff games, the Blues had the ammo needed for an exciting playoff run, defeating the Winnipeg Jets in six games, the Dallas Stars in seven games and the San Jose Sharks in six games before winning the Stanley Cup in a seven-game series with the Boston Bruins.

Why not the Wild?

If you've read this far, there are several aspects of the 2022-23 Panthers and the 2018-19 Blues that suggest the Wild are a hybrid of both teams.

The Wild's season began with a 5-10-4 start before Dean Evason was replaced by John Hynes. Hynes has led the Wild to a 28-17-4 record since he arrived in Minnesota and his .571 winning percentage isn't far off from the .603 mark Berube posted after taking over the Blues in 2018.

Like the 2022-23 Panthers, the Wild also have a superstar leading the way. Kirill Kaprizov is one of the hottest players in the NHL right now with 22 goals and 18 assists over his last 24 games and his current pace has him projected for 93 points at the end of the season.

Kaprizov is one of four players who are projected for over 60 points by the end of the season as Joel Eriksson Ek (72 points), Mats Zuccarello (68 points) and Matt Boldy (65 points) have all become key pieces to Minnesota's offense. But these numbers could be even better with all four players projected for a 70-point pace over a full 82-game season.

Minnesota also has experience between the pipes in Marc-Andre Fleury. Fleury's overall numbers are solid with a 16-11-4 record, a 2.67 GAA and a .906 save percentage this season. But the 39-year-old has been clutch down the stretch, going 9-2-1 with a .928 save percentage since Jan. 15 (13 games).

With 169 career games in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, the three-time cup winner should give the Wild an advantage. But it could all come down to who they could play.

If the Wild were in the second playoff position as of Sunday morning, they would face the Vancouver Canucks in the first round of the playoffs. The matchup would be in Minnesota's favor as the Wild are 2-1 with a shootout win against the Canucks this season, but it would also give them an advantageous path in the Pacific Division bracket.

With a 2-1 record against the current second seed Edmonton and a 7-3 loss to the Los Angeles Kings on Oct. 19, the Wild own a 4-3 record against the teams projected to be in that bracket. Minnesota could also improve this mark with two games against the Kings left on the schedule.

But things could change if the Wild end up in the Central bracket. Minnesota is winless in eight combined meetings with Colorado, Dallas and Winnipeg this season and with all three closing in on playoff spots, it could mean a first-round exit for a team that hasn't advanced to the second round since 2015.

The Wild are not in a position to pick and choose their opponent, however, and their best strategy may be to keep winning games and see what happens. Minnesota will need some help to get into the playoffs but some factors suggest they could make some noise if they get there.