Patrick Roy and Mike Yeo spent so much time during their media sessions Tuesday talking about Matt Cooke's knee-to-knee hit on Tyson Barrie — spurred on by outraged Colorado media members and toned-down Minnesota media members — that it was easy to forget there is a lot more hockey to be played in this series between the Wild and Avalanche.

But after sifting through all the subtext, we can arrive at a conclusion that there is not just a playoff game looming Thursday at Xcel Energy Center. There is, in fact, the most important game this franchise has played since Jacques Lemaire left town.

To date, the Wild has accomplished exactly what it accomplished a year ago, which is to say: not much. Last year, Minnesota made the playoffs as a low seed and faced a dynamic offensive team in round 1. Game 1 was an overtime loss the Wild could have stolen with one good bounce. Game 2 wasn't close. Game 3 was an overtime victory, with the winning goal coming off a great individual effort by a young player.

Sound familiar? That's the path the Wild has taken once again this season and in these playoffs.

Minnesota went into Game 4 last year against Chicago believing it had a legitimate chance to turn the series into a best-of-three. Instead, the Blackhawks shut out the Wild 3-0 in Game 4 at the X before finishing the series with a 5-1 dismantling in Chicago.

This Colorado team is not last year's Blackhawks team. This Wild team is not last year's Wild team. Those things are true as far as the eye test goes.

The Wild has dominated stretches of two games in this series, and the opportunity to take Game 4 feels far more legitimate than it did a year ago. Forwards Mikko Koivu and Zach Parise, held to one point between them and a combined minus-13 rating in last year's playoffs, have seven points in three games this year.

But none of that means anything without more results.

To convince fans that this year is different, the Wild must duplicate not only Monday's effort, but also Monday's result in Thursday's Game 4.

Where last year the Wild and its coach could skate by with the accomplishment of scrambling to make the playoffs with a lot of new personnel in a lockout-shortened year, that does not apply this year.

This feels like a series that should go deep. This feels like a series that, even after the Game 1 meltdown, the Wild still has a chance to win.

That's why Thursday feels so important.

michael rand