The Wild are now two games into a brutal stretch that sees them play seven of eight on the road, the first six against probable playoff teams. They've also sunk back into their goal-free tailspin, scoring just once each in losses at Anaheim and at San Jose to begin the first portion of their road trip.
The stats say that Colorado, which is giving up far more shots than they are taking, can't continue to stay among the league's elite. But for the moment, they're not only ahead of the Wild in the standings by a point, but they have four games in hand - as does St. Louis, four points ahead of Minnesota.
A loss tonight, and yet another Colorado hot streak, could drop the Wild far enough behind the Avs that catching them would be next to impossible. Add in the pressure of the road trip, and the Wild's recent troubles, and I'm willing to say that tonight's game is the biggest of the year so far for Minnesota.
What else to watch
11am today: Coastal Carolina at North Dakota State, ESPN. The Gophers were 8-4 this year and things are looking up in Dinkytown, and even so, I don't think they are the tri-state area's best college football team. The Bison, the #1 seed in the I-AA playoffs, are the favorites for a third consecutive championship; they beat Furman 38-7 last week, and could reasonably be expected to punish unseeded Coastal Carolina similarly. But you'll have to tune in to find out.
2pm: Army vs. Navy, CBS. I love the Army-Navy game. There's no good reason for this; the football's generally not great, and once the cadets from either side finish marching, they don't provide much more in the way of pageantry than any other college football game. And yet, there's something fun, something primal, about two schools for whom the biggest game of the year isn't a conference championship or a bowl game or a battle for a better ranking. Army-Navy isn't about any of that; it's about beating your brother, and who among us doesn't find that as important as possible?
4:15: #11 Kentucky at #18 North Carolina, ESPN. It's a nonconference matchup between two Top 25 college basketball teams. Even if this doesn't necessarily have the Top-5 Tar Heels-Wildcats cachet that we might have expected, we have to take excitement where we can get it, at this point of the season.
Noon Sunday: Vikings vs. Philadelphia, FOX. Friend of the blog Drew Magary wrote a (R-rated, so kids, look away) screed against cheering for the Vikings' opponents so that the Purple can get a better draft pick. And maybe he's right; maybe it's better to always want your team to win. But at the same time, if the Vikings lose, then we're one step closer to a host of other benefits; better draft picks, yes, but also potentially new coaches and new general managers and, if we're lucky, fewer of these nightmare three-win Les [Insert Last Name Here] seasons. So there's that too.
What to read this weekend
At Grantland, Sean McIndoe reviews some of the recent NHL research regarding zone entries, and whether it's better to dump the puck and chase it, or try to carry it in. The Wild doesn't seem like it is much for advanced stats, but Minnesota features heavily in this one, as a change the Wild is trying to make this year fits in pretty well with what the numbers show.
Also, the Twins have Jason Kubel coming back; Parker Hageman at Twins Daily looks at just why he was so terrible in 2013 for Arizona.