Playoff-bound Wild can't hide recent slide or weak record
ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) The Minnesota Wild will take the worst record into the playoffs by a Western Conference team in a full season since before the franchise existed.
There's hardly a more unpredictable event in professional sports than the Stanley Cup tournament, though, so qualification is not an insignificant achievement. The Wild have a 15-6-1 record over their first 22 games under interim coach John Torchetti to bank on, too, before this four-game losing streak began.
''The big picture is you're in the playoffs. It doesn't matter how you get in. Once you're in, anything can happen,'' forward Charlie Coyle said.
The Wild host Calgary on Saturday night, and a win would give them 89 points. That would still be the fewest by a Western Conference playoff team since San Jose (87 points) in 1999-2000, the first season the NHL started awarding up to three points per game.
Since the shootout era began in 2005-06, the only time that a team qualified in either conference with fewer than 90 points was 2009-10, when both Montreal and Philadelphia finished with 88 points. Ironically, the Canadiens and Flyers met in the Eastern Conference finals that spring, with the Flyers advancing.
The Wild, who will play either Dallas or St. Louis next week, have reached the playoffs for the fourth straight year.
''We know we can do it,'' forward Jason Pominville said. ''We know it's not going to be easy no matter who we play, so it's going to be tough, but usually we find a way to raise our game in tough games and we've got to do it again.''
Torchetti put the Wild through a strenuous practice Friday after a two-day break from the ice for most of the regulars.
''I felt that the days off put everybody in a good mood. I've seen some guys smile that haven't smiled for about a week, so that was good,'' Torchetti said.
The NHL has the maximum 15 games on the schedule for Saturday, plus two more on Sunday. None of the eight first-round matchups have been set yet, and while the eight-team field in the Western Conference is fixed there are three teams fighting for two unfilled spots in the Eastern Conference.
In the West:
- Dallas and St. Louis are tied with 107 points for the No. 1 seed. The Stars host Nashville, and the Blues host Washington at the same time on Saturday night. Dallas would win a tiebreaker with more regulation/overtime victories.
- Los Angeles (101 points) and Anaheim (99 points) are still pursuing the Pacific Division title. The Ducks have two games left, at Colorado on Saturday afternoon and at Washington on Sunday night, but they would lose a tiebreaker to the Kings, who finish at home against Winnipeg on Saturday night.
- Locked in are Chicago as the No. 3 seed in the Central Division, San Jose as the No. 3 seed in the Pacific Division and Nashville and Minnesota as the wild cards.
In the East:
- Detroit and Boston are tied with 93 points in the chase for the No. 3 seed in the Atlantic Division, but the odd team out must beat Philadelphia (92 points) for the second wild-card spot. The Red Wings play at the New York Rangers on Saturday afternoon, and the Bruins host Ottawa at the same time. The Flyers host Pittsburgh on Saturday afternoon and, conveniently, finish on Sunday night at the New York Islanders. The tiebreaker scenarios are more complicated, but the Red Wings have 39 regulation/overtime victories followed by the Bruins (38) and the Flyers (36).
- The New York teams are tied with 99 points in the competition for the No. 3 seed in the Metropolitan Division, with the lower finisher taking the first wild-card spot. The Rangers would win a tiebreaker, but the Islanders have two games left, starting with Buffalo at home on Saturday night.
- Locked in are Washington as the No. 1 overall seed, Florida and Tampa Bay as the No. 1 and No. 2 seeds in the Atlantic Division and Pittsburgh as the No. 2 seed in the Metropolitan Division.