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RandBall: Wild's strong playoff hopes rest with one man

  • Blog Post by: Michael Rand
  • February 27, 2014 - 9:32 AM

There are 23 regular-season Wild games left in this season -- just over a fourth of the year to go. Minnesota has 11 home games and 12 road games. The Wild is the No. 7 seed in the West, having put at least a little distance (four points) between it and slumping No. 8 Vancouver as well as the two teams chasing from below (Phoenix and Dallas, five points behind each). There is about a 75 percent chance that this team makes the playoffs, according to this site, which sounds about right when you think about how hard it can be to make up ground and lose ground this time of year.

But the biggest number is 1. One man that this season could very well ultimately be riding upon. And that man is one few would have counted on at the start of the year: young goalie Darcy Kuemper.

Michael Russo wrote a nice piece on the happy-go-lucky Kuemper for today's paper as the Wild prepares to resume at Edmonton tonight following the Olympic break.

Without a lot of things this season -- the early work of the now-sidelined Josh Harding, a few grind-them-out wins in early January after late December slide and the emergence of some of the team's younger forwards, to name a few -- those playoff odds wouldn't be so keen.

But if you're looking for the savior of the season, the one keeping a very realistic playoff hope alive, in our mind it is Kuemper. He hasn't matched the lights-out brilliance Harding brought when he was healthy earlier this year, but with Niklas fighting an injury and the puck for so much of his season, Kuemper's 8-3-2 record and 2.46 GAA have kept things from falling apart on average nights and flat-out stolen games on others.

The goaltending picture for this team going forward still looks strangely murky. Backstrom's contract and health, Harding's health and Kuemper's relative inexperience will be a riddle to solve in the offseason. For now, the Wild should be thrilled to ride whatever steadiness Kuemper can continue to provide into a quite possible second consecutive playoff berth.

© 2014 Star Tribune