NBCSN’s coverage of the 2020-21 NHL season continues with the Wednesday Night Hockey matchup between the St. Louis Blues and Minnesota Wild. Blues-Wild coverage begins at 6 p.m. ET on NBCSN. You can watch the game online and on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.
There’s a tendency to look at the dominance of Colorado and Vegas in the West and move on. Minnesota hasn’t made it so easy to do that lately.
The Wild enter Wednesday’s game with the Blues a mere point — albeit, with one more game played — behind the Avalanche, who play the Golden Knights. One of the two will gain points, at the least, so that’s not ideal; but there’s still room for the Wild to keep gaining ground.
They could catch one of the two, if someone slumps; Vegas has won nine in a row and the Avs have taken seven of their last 10, while the Wild have kept pace at seven consecutive wins.
Minnesota can’t control what happens with those teams anyways, and have nine games of their own to worry about to close at the season. They face nearly zero risk of falling to the fourth seed, too. They have four games in a row with the free falling — but desperate — Blues.
The Wild aren’t ruling it out, though, either.
“There’s not one person in our locker room that doesn’t think we can be No. 1 in our division,” Marcus Foligno said. “It’s still within reach. That has to be our mindset. We want to be the top dog.”
[BLUES-WILD COVERAGE BEGINS AT 6 P.M. ET – NBCSN]
So it’s an opportunity prepare for the postseason, where the Wild will almost certainly earn the unlucky draw of one of the Golden Knights or Avalanche. Such is life in the most top-heavy division in the NHL.
Everyone is mentally preparing for a Vegas – Colorado clash in the division final, so the Wild could make some fun of it all and take an upset.
At some point, though, the Wild should be taken seriously as not a spoiler, but an actual contender out west.
Kirill Kaprizov has competition for the Calder with the late-season surge from Dallas rookie Jason Robertson, but accolades aside, he’s become one of the most dangerous players in the division. The Wild have accumulated the third best penalty kill in the league — 86.1% — and have allowed the fewest goals against at home of any team with just 44.
Goalie Cam Talbot has won 14 of his past 21 starts. Minnesota has the most players in the league with 10-plus goals and the most players who have contributed at least five goals, with a whopping 16 of them. Their depth has outperformed everyone in the league time and time again. Perhaps a Matt Boldy postseason appearance is on the horizon, too, as he continues to perform well in the AHL.
The Wild lead the NHL in points with 53 since a 4-0 loss to the Kings on Feb. 18. They haven’t lost two games in a row in that span. They have the fifth-best high danger goals for percentage of 58.00, according to Natural Stat Trick.
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Minnesota might not catch Colorado or Vegas. Any hope of that may just be a pipe dream. They also might not have to; Minnesota’s new identity this season isn’t about finishing with the best regular season record in the division. It’s about smothering opponents defensively, with surprisingly capable offensive weapons.
They are 17-4-0 at home for one of the top home records in the league all season. Home ice would certainly help; they’ve quietly kept pace with the Goliaths of the league regardless, though, and that should be more than enough to be considered a legitimate postseason threat.
Vegas and Colorado deserve all the attention and hype as two of the best teams in the league; just don’t count out Minnesota just yet.
Marisa Ingemi is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop her a line at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow her on Twitter @Marisa_Ingemi.