Exhale. That was never, ever, ever … in doubt.
Money in the bank, as I like to say. As I promised on Twitter 30 or so minutes before the game, Red Wings, Wild and Blue Jackets would all win and finish 7, 8, 9.
OK, maybe after the 10th Wild icing of the third period I started to get a shade concerned, but in a true must-win, the Wild hung on for absolutely dear life and pulled out a 3-1 victory tonight here at the Pepsi Center over Colorado to advance to the National Hockey League playoffs of all things for the first time in five years.
Minnesota’s reward? The President’s Trophy-winning Chicago Blackhawks.
But hey, we can all recast how torturous this April was for the Wild, but the good news is the Wild 1) got in and 2) when the series starts, the calendar could conceivably turn to May. April’s gone!
The Wild had to get in. There is almost no doubt there would have been drastic, painful changes if the Wild completely the April swoon. Mike Yeo almost certainly would have been handed his pink slip, maybe as soon as getting off the plane in Minnesota. More on that in the main story.
But now the Wild moves on and begins the necessary next step of an organization that’s trying to grow and frankly hopes to one day model itself after a franchise like Chicago.
“But let’s make sure that we’re clear, we’re not done,” Yeo said. “We’re just not going to sit here on Cloud Nine and say this was a huge accomplishment.”
As of now, it’s uncertain when the first round will begin. Word should come some time Sunday night after the Ottawa at Boston makeup game. The Bulls are at home Thursday at the United Center, so the series may go Wednesday-Friday. However, TV rules in this instance, so once the league sees what NBC Sports Network wants, there is a chance the series could even go Tuesday-Friday if the network wants somebody else Wednesday.
But it is real unclear right now.
You’ve got to hand it to the Blue Jackets, who just played so well the last month to put themselves in this position. They just won five of six on the biggest road trip in franchise history. Then tonight, they rally on Nashville to win 3-1 and put the pressure squarely on Minnesota.
Thousands of fans reportedly stayed at Nationwide Arena and watched the giant bigscreen that showed the third period of the Wild-Avs game. They rooted for Colorado, but the Wild broke their hearts.
The Wild and Jackets – expansion siblings – tied with 55 points, but the Wild had three more non-shootout wins than them. Coincidentally, the big proponent for the rule change tiebreaker? Former GM Scott Howson. But either way, Wild would have had the previous tiebreaker, too – most wins.
Tonight, please read the new main and the new gamer/notebook once it merges onto www.startribune.com/wild for all the quotes and scene stuff, but Niklas Backstrom had just a huge bounceback game after being chased from the nets against Edmonton after giving up three goals on five shots.
The Avs pressed hard in the third. The Wild was get the puck out of the zone mode. But Backstrom stopped all 15 shots he saw and stopped 29 of 30 shots in the game.
Zach Parise scored, Pierre-Marc Bouchard iced it with an empty netter and Devin Setoguchi’s first goal in 15 games on a second-period power play lifted the Wild into the postseason.
Now, my annual offseason diet is delayed indefinitely, which is good news for us all, because I don’t want to go on vacation just yet. Lots of coverage on the horizon in the Star Tribune, I promise.
There is no access to the Wild on Sunday, so I will write for Monday’s paper on the Blackhawks and reaction in the Wild room about playing such a juggernaut.
A lot of happy Wild players in that room postgame. More than half the room, like Setoguchi – a solid playoff performer who calls the next step “a different animal” – have postseason experience. And then there are newbies like Kyle Brodziak.
“It’s pretty awesome,” he said. “A lot of guys in here have worked really hard to get to this point. It feels good to be able to take the next challenge.”
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