Road sweet road.
There were almost a dozen scenarios, some more complicated than others, that could have clinched the Wild a playoff spot Tuesday night. That’s how it works in a league where there are shootouts, regulation/overtime tiebreakers and three-point games.
By the far the simplest scenario involved the Wild just taking care of business once and for all. It was a win-and-in prescription, and the Wild got it done with a 2-1 victory over the Chicago Blackhawks.
Please check out the gamer here because there’s some good scene-setting stuff from the postgame locker room.
Eleventh consecutive road victory for the Wild. That stands alone for second in NHL history. If the Wild can beat Nashville in Nashville on Thursday, the Wild will tie the 2005-06 Detroit Red Wings for longest road winning streak in NHL history (12).
“A little bit of stress here the last week, a little bit of tension, but the fact that we won 11 straight road games to get ourselves in the playoffs, I mean, that’s unbelievable,” Yeo said.
What was also unbelievable?
The fact I was standing in the same locker room that Jan. 10 that caused me to lead my game story with this:
CHICAGO – The Wild’s in full-scale, five-alarm, DEFCON 1 crisis mode.
“I was talking with Zach [Parise], and we’ve never been through, … we’ve never seen anything like this,” defenseman Ryan Suter said after the Wild’s 11th loss in 13 games, a 4-1 whipping Sunday night from the Chicago Blackhawks. “I don’t know what the heck is going on, but every day’s a bad day right now.”
When I noted to Yeo the irony that the Wild was experiencing the season’s highest point in the same spot it experienced the season’s lowest point three months ago, Yeo pointed out that two nights later in Pittsburgh was probably a little lower.
But three days after that Blackhawks loss, the Wild acquired Devan Dubnyk, and here we are – a postseason berth for a third consecutive season after being 12th in the West in January and getting smoked seemingly nightly.
“This was only one step. We have bigger plans,” Yeo said. “Very, very proud of our guys for what they overcame, the way that everyone dug in together.”
Mikael Granlund and Jason Zucker (yes, that Zucker) broke a scoreless tie less than four minutes apart midway through the third period. Zucker’s goal became the winning goal in his first game since Feb. 9. If he scores in the final two games, it’ll be his first 20-goal season.
Zucker said it wasn’t his best game by any stretch, but he got better as the game went along, made plays and scored a huge goal. He also took a mammoth hit from Brent Seabrook two shifts before his goal to give Minnesota a 2-0 lead.
“As the game went on, he got better every shift,” Yeo said. “Things were happening a little quick early in the game, he was rushing a few plays. But a guy like that, with his speed, he has the ability to find his game through the course of a game in a tough place to make that happen. That’s what he brings. His speed, his hockey smarts find him in those positions and he’s obviously got the finish.”
On National Beer Day, Yeo vowed to honor the tradition on the Wild’s flight to Nashville.
“The leadership tonight was just amazing,” Yeo said, talking about his veteran’s composure on the bench, in the dressing room and their play on the ice.
Zach Parise was extraordinary, assisting on Granlund’s goal and really setting the tone in the second period with some crazy, Parise-like effort on a penalty kill.
Ryan Suter saved a goal in the third by winning a puck battle with Andrew Shaw.
Dubnyk made 32 saves and improved to 15-1-1 on the road with a 1.42 goals-against average and .953 save percentage and 5-0-1 in his past six second of back-to-back games with a 1.14 goals-against average and .968 save percentage.
“What a great story, the fact that he comes in here and plays that game tonight, what he’s done for us,” Yeo said. “This is all new for him too, dealing with the pressure of making the playoffs and this is great experience going into the playoffs.”
Yeo said the Wild has “bigger plans” than just making the playoffs.
He said he hasn’t yet thought about how he’ll handle the last two games. My guess is Darcy Kuemper plays the season finale in St. Louis, especially if you’re going to play the Blues in the first round. The last thing you want is the Blues taking runs at Dubnyk.
Yeo would like to go after this consecutive road win streak record, but he also wants to give guys like Matt Cooke a chance to get in and to get guys rest. On the other hand, you don’t want guys getting stale before the playoffs start next Wednesday or Thursday. The Wild just had four days off and we saw what happened.
You want guys to stay sharp.
Also, Dubnyk said, while he imagines he’ll get one of the two final games off, “I wouldn’t expect to have a week and a half off. I don’t think that’d be very good. We want to continue the winning feeling going into the playoffs. These are both teams we could be facing in first or second round.”
Suter said, “We’ve gone through a lot this year. A lot of ups and downs and mumps and different injuries, sicknesses, it’s very rewarding to know we’re on to the next round here.”
On reflecting on what this team accomplished this second half, Suter said with a laugh, “We tried that the last week and that didn’t work too well. The four days, I think guys were starting to think about how good we were and it didn’t help us. Hopefully we don’t reflect too much here.”
On this team compared to the one in January that was in Chicago, Parise said, “We’re a different team than we were then. We’re playing just better as a group. From goaltending out, we’re playing a better team game.
“It’s rewarding. We made it interesting the last few games, but it’s rewarding to get in.”
Check out the gamer and the Jason Zucker notebook here.
FYI, from the Wild: Ticket availability for all 2015 NHL Stanley Cup Playoff home games at Xcel Energy Center is expected to be extremely limited due to incredible demand and priority access given to Wild Season Ticket Holders.
"Fan support for the Minnesota Wild has always been awesome, but this season it's reached a whole new level," said Wild Chief Operating Officer Matt Majka. "Our Season Ticket Holders are renewing in record numbers and more are joining the 'Team of 18,000' each day. Many have been with us since day one and we are thrilled to be able to once again offer them the playoff experience they so rightly deserve."
The Wild is currently in the process of fulfilling Season Ticket Holder playoff ticket requests. Should single-game playoff tickets become available for the general public, they will be released the day prior to each scheduled home game. Information regarding ticket availability will be announced as soon as it is available.
No practice Wednesday. I’ll blog if there’s news. Otherwise, it’s work ahead time and check out Chip Scoggins’ awesome story on Chris Stewart in Thursday’s paper.