After the Wild beat the Sharks 3-2 earlier this week with a tight, efficient defensive effort, head coach Bruce Boudreau had a little bit of a “yeah, but” reaction. Basically, he wanted to see Minnesota produce that kind of effort and result more than once before he was going to declare the Wild’s slump was over.
And, well, the veteran coach was correct to proceed with caution. The Wild fell back into its losing ways Thursday with a bad 3-1 loss to the Flyers. Minnesota sports fans who are only a few months removed from watching a promising Vikings season go off the rails are wondering if the same thing is happening to the Wild.
The answer is yes — but with a major difference.
In terms of basics of the slumps for both teams, there are definite similarities. In jumping out to great starts and establishing themselves as early favorites to win championships, both the Vikings and Wild had a feeling of doing no wrong. Both had been playoff teams the year before, but both were suddenly on another level. In both cases, there was a nagging feeling that the teams were overachieving, but few predicted that either would fall back to earth so dramatically.
But both did — for now, at least.
The Vikings certainly did. Their season is long gone, with that 5-0 start yielding to an 8-8 finish after eight losses in their final 11 games. As they sputtered to that finish, there was still hope along the way that the Vikings could stabilize enough to at least make the playoffs. But it just never happened. It only got worse.
That’s where the story is different with the Wild, and that’s an important thing to remember. Minnesota, in spite of a Vikings-esque stretch of nine losses in 12 games, is going to make the playoffs. The Wild missed a chance to clinch a playoff berth with that loss to the Flyers on Thursday, but with nine games left it’s an inevitability that Minnesota will still make it.
Although the slump will almost certainly cost the Wild a chance to win the Central Division since Chicago now has an eight-point lead, Minnesota is still in second place in the division with a strong nine-point lead over the Blues and Predators.
So in all likelihood, the Wild is going to have home-ice advantage in the first round of the playoffs and will face either the Blues or Predators, depending on which one finishes third. Chicago will face whichever of the two wild card teams has the fewest points — which could very well be the Blues or Predators as well.
If Minnesota is able to find its game and get past the first round to (likely) face Chicago, the Blackhawks would have home ice. So the penalty for this Wild slide essentially might be the loss of one home playoff game.
Long story short: before we get too deep with the Wild vs. Vikings comparisons, remember that the Wild still very much has a chance to save its season. Minnesota won’t go far playing the way it is right now, but if that changes by the time the playoffs roll around the slump at the end of the regular season largely will be an afterthought.