Minnesota Wild qualify for NHL Playoffs

The Minnesota Wild had lost eight straight games and 13 of 14 after the Boston Bruins defeated them 4-2 on Feb. 13.

Mike Yeo was fired as coach later that day and replaced by John Torchetti, who was coaching the Wild’s American Hockey League affiliate in Iowa.
Torchetti took the reins with Minnesota 23-22-10 and in sixth place in the Central Division. They are 15-10-1 since.

The Wild have lost four games in a row after being shut out, 3-0, by the San Jose Sharks on Tuesday, but they qualified for the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the fourth consecutive season when the Colorado Avalanche lost 4-3 to the Nashville Predators a bit later in the night.

Here are five reasons the Wild clinched:

1. Surging offense

Torchetti’s promotion provided a spark to the Minnesota offense. The Wild averaged 2.46 goals per game in 54 games under Yeo; through 26 games with Torchetti in charge, Minnesota is averaging 2.96 goals per game.

Eleven players have scored 10 or more goals this season. Zach Parise has 25 in 70 games, including six in his past seven, to lead Minnesota, and Charlie Coyle is second with 21.

Captain Mikko Koivu‘s 56 points lead the Wild, but defenseman Ryan Suter (51 points) and forwards Mikael Granlund (44), Nino Niederreiter (43), Thomas Vanek (41), Jason Pominville (36) and Erik Haula (34) also have contributed to the offensive surge under Torchetti.

Niederreiter has 11 goals and eight assists in 26 games under Torchetti. Haula, who had five goals and 14 points in 49 games before the coaching change, is tied with Parise for the Wild lead with 21 points (nine goals, 12 assists) since.

“You’ve got to enjoy watching [Haula] play the game, because he’s fun to watch,” Torchetti told the Star Tribune on March 21. “He plays hard on the puck. It’s fun to watch. Nino does a great job on the walls, a great job on the power play. A lot of people can learn from the way they’re playing.”

2. Coyle’s career year

Coming into this season, the Wild probably were counting on Coyle could for approximately 10 goals. He scored eight as a rookie in 2012-13, 12 the next season and 11 in 2014-15.

Not bad, but he wanted more.

“I think I’m capable of doing better than that,” Coyle said of his previous goal totals. “It’s something I’ve been working on. I’ve been wanting to contribute more to our team.”

Coyle, 24, has done just that. He already has set NHL career highs in goals (21) and points (42), and he’s three shy of matching his NHL career high of 24 assists in 2014-15.

3. Dubnyk’s return to ’14-15 form

Devan Dubnyk was a 2015 Vezina Trophy finalist after he went 27-9-2 with a 1.78 goals-against average and .936 save percentage in 39 games after Minnesota acquired him from the Arizona Coyotes on Jan. 14, 2015.

The Wild rewarded Dubnyk with a six-year contract worth a reported $26 million in late June, but many questioned whether he could play at the same elite level he did the final three months of the 2014-15 season.

Dubnyk won his first three games of the season. Then he was inconsistent. Then he couldn’t buy a win. He made 34 saves in a win at the Dallas Stars on Jan. 9 but lost his next nine starts until finally getting back in the win column Feb. 15 at the Vancouver Canucks.

Dubnyk, who has started all four games during the losing streak, is 14-7-1 with a 2.27 goals-against average and .919 save percentage in his past 23 games.

“You just want to play well,” Dubnyk told the Pioneer Press on March 19. “… You can’t want to go out there and want to make 50 saves. If you only get 10 shots, that’s all you can do, so my job and my focus is to give these guys a good feeling and good chance to win every game.

“You can’t approach it like you have to win every game. I have to make big saves and have these guys feel comfortable and give them a chance to win the game, and then see what happens.”

4. Another late-season run

For the third consecutive season, the Wild got hot in the second half and rode the momentum into the playoffs.

Minnesota was 12th in the Western Conference on Jan. 14, 2015, following a 7-2 loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins the day before. The Wild went 26-8-2 to close out the 2014-15 season and earn the first wild card into the playoffs from the Western Conference.

The season before, Minnesota limped into 2014 with a 20-17-5 record and six-game losing streak. The Wild rebounded with a 23-10-7 record to finish the 2013-14 season and qualify for the playoffs.

This season, they’ve done it again.

The Wild’s 15 wins under Torchetti are tied for fifth in the League since Feb. 15, trailing the Pittsburgh Penguins (19), Anaheim Ducks (17), St. Louis Blues (16) and Sharks (16), and their 77 goals are third-most in the NHL in that span.

“It’s kind of our mentality to turn the page on what’s happened and just look forward,” Parise told the Wild website on March 28. “Right now, we’re on the right track at a good time of year.”

5. Super Suter

It’s been a banner season for Suter.

The defenseman has NHL career highs in assists (43) and points (51), and his eight goals match his previous high from 2006-07 with the Nashville Predators. He is third on the Wild in points, and he’s already set their single-season record for assists by a defenseman.

Suter, 31, is second in the League at 28:40 of ice time per game, trailing Ottawa Senators defenseman Erik Karlsson (29:03).

“I know I’m having a good season,” Suter told KSTP TV on March 15. “However, if we don’t win, it doesn’t mean very much. It’s all about winning.”

NOTE: First appeared on NHL.com

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