The Minnesota Wild have a lot on the line during the last night of the NHL regular season. Their opponent knows its fate and simply can be a spoiler.
The Wild host the Colorado Avalanche on Friday night in St. Paul, Minn. The Central Division rivals each went past regulation on Thursday, with Minnesota posting a 3-2 win in overtime over Calgary while Colorado dropped a 5-4 decision in a shootout to Nashville.
The Avalanche (56-18-7, 119 points) saw their bid for the Presidents’ Trophy and guaranteed home-ice advantage throughout the playoffs end with the loss.
Minnesota (52-22-7, 111 points) can clinch second place in the Central Division with at least one point on Friday. The Wild also can capture that spot should the St. Louis Blues (49-21-11, 109 points) fail to defeat the Vegas Golden Knights on Friday.
The Blues hold the tiebreaker over the Wild with a 43-36 edge in regulation wins.
Colorado has posted a 2-0-1 record against Minnesota this season.
The Avalanche saw the returns of Mikko Rantanen (team-leading 36 goals, 91 points) and top defenseman Devon Toews (club-best plus-52 rating) on Thursday after both had missed the previous four games. Rantanen was sidelined due to a non-COVID illness, while Toews was out to rest some minor undisclosed injuries.
“He’s a special player,” teammate Alex Newhook said of Toews. “I know that he brings the same game every night. He’s super consistent and great on both ends of the puck. … He’s got that sense where he’s a calming guy and is always doing the right things. It’s great to have him back in the lineup. We definitely miss him when he’s out.”
Wild forward Mats Zuccarello will miss his fifth straight game due to a lower-body injury, but defensemen Jared Spurgeon (upper body) and Matt Dumba (upper body) are expected to play on Friday. Spurgeon missed two games while Dumba sat out 12.
Minnesota is playing the top two teams in the Western Conference on consecutive nights with something on the line. Wild coach Dean Evason said he welcomed the opportunity as a means for his team to sharpen its game headed into the playoffs.
“Obviously it’s great to have this success because clearly we’ve got another one (Friday) and we’ve got an opportunity now to get to home ice,” Evason said. “But it’s nice to reinforce a lot of things that are playoff-type hockey.”
The Wild likely will face a Colorado team that will rest at least some of its top players. The Avalanche, who have lost five of six games (1-4-1), squandered a two-goal lead against the Predators.
The team isn’t blaming goaltender Darcy Kuemper, who will likely be one of the players to sit Friday night.
“We have tons of confidence in his game,” Logan O’Connor said. “We could have helped him out more. He’s kept us in a lot of games all year.”
–Field Level Media