The Wild did the most Wild thing ever Tuesday night. It was deliciously fitting for this current outfit, actually.
The Wild secured the final playoff spot in the Western Conference by losing Game 81 of a regular season that already guarantees the team will finish with a losing record.
Nothing excites a fanbase like backing into the playoffs.
Beep, beep, beep.
The Wild qualified for the playoffs with a 3-0 loss to the San Jose Sharks by virtue of the Colorado Avalanche also losing to Nashville, thus officially ending their you-take-it, no-you-take-it playoff chase.
How often does a team get booed off the ice by its home fans on a night when it clinches a playoff spot? Happened at Xcel Energy Center as disgusted customers let the Wild hear it after a fourth consecutive loss.
The venom was well-deserved.
But shhh, don’t tell Wild players and coaches they backed into anything. They don’t like that.
“I think everyone is missing the point,” interim coach John Torchetti said. “There have been different peaks and valleys this year but the bottom line is we peaked at the right time and we got into the playoffs.”
Zach Parise said he hopes clinching a playoff spot will make media members stop “with the negativity.”
OK, strike up the band, let’s all celebrate!
Four losses in a row with a playoff berth on the line? Woohoo! A shutout loss in the most important game of the season? Yippee!
What a weird team, what a wacky season.
So now what?
I’ve given up trying to predict how the Wild will play from one game to the next. It’s impossible. This team is harder to decipher than a Rubik’s Cube.
We’ve witnessed the Wild play like of the best teams in the NHL. And then play like one of the worst.
The Wild huffed and puffed to reach the postseason despite winning all five meetings with the Chicago Blackhawks this season. Good luck explaining that one.
Every team experiences ebbs and flows in a long grind of an 82-game season. The Wild’s high and lows are so extreme that they require a telescope to see both ends.
A playoff berth is merely Phase I in marching orders that were clear and unmistakable. This season was never about just reaching the playoffs.
The stated goal from Day 1 was to advance further than the second round. That expectation shouldn’t be rejiggered just because their narrative deviated off script.
Yes, the playoffs looked like a pipe dream back in January when players basically quit on Mike Yeo and got their coach fired. So in that regard, the Wild’s ability to regroup under Torchetti’s leadership demonstrates resiliency, though self-inflicted hardship tempers blind praise.
The fact remains that another early exit from the postseason should be viewed unfavorably, accepted as a failed mission. This team is barreling toward a swift exit the way things look at present.
“When we’re trying to prepare for the playoffs, you can’t play the last four games the way we have,” Parise acknowledged. “Right now that’s not good.”
That’s the problem with this team. The Wild’s focus and intensity disappear too often to a degree that undercuts progress and leaves a negative perception. Sharp fluctuations in performance have that effect.
Torchetti continues to push buttons hoping to find a lineup that consistently clicks. Tuesday, he made struggling defenseman Matt Dumba a healthy scratch and inserted a guy into the lineup (Zac Dalpe) who required a Google search.
Love Torchetti’s message and willingness to hold players accountable, but it’s hardly reassuring that he feels compelled to take such action at this late hour. The Wild should be ramping up and fine-tuning for the playoffs. Instead, Torchetti is experimenting with his lineup and trying to light a fuse with certain players.
Still stuck on 87 points, the Wild should feel fortunate even to be in position to make the playoffs. The Los Angeles Kings missed the postseason last season with 95 points.
The Wild mathematically can’t reach 90 points this season. And yet the result remains the same, playoff bound.
Can’t you just feel the excitement?