The Minnesota Wild had just wrapped up its regular season when thoughts immediately turned to their first-round playoff opponent, Central Division-winning Colorado. Minnesota head coach Mike Yeo said the team was working out after Sunday’s 7-3 loss to the Nashville Predators.
"The thing is, coming into the playoffs, we’ve just got to really hit the reset button now," Yeo said. "Bottom line is we’ve got to be ready to start from scratch here."
Focusing on the Avalanche was the prevailing thought in the Wild’s locker room after Sunday’s game. Nashville, a team out of the playoffs, scored six straight goals to erase an early 3-1 Minnesota lead. The Wild, locked into the seventh spot in the Western Conference as the top wild-card team, was most concerned with staying healthy.
Minnesota ended the season with 98 points to tie the second-highest, single-season total in franchise history, trailing only the 2006-07 team that finished with 104 points. The Wild made the playoffs for the fifth time in team history and will be facing Colorado in the playoffs for the third time, all in the first round.
"Finally we know who we’re playing," said Minnesota forward Jason Pominville, who scored his 30th goal of the season on Sunday. "What a season they’ve had. Top team in our division, they’ve got a lot of skill. They’ve completely turned it around, great coaching staff, their goalie’s played really well, so it’s not going to be easy. They finished where they finished for a reason and we’re going to have to make sure we’re on top of our game and well-prepared to compete with the best team in our division."
In the process, Pominville played all 82 games for the Wild and became the third player in team history to score at least 30 goals. Marian Gaborik reached the mark five times in a Minnesota uniform and Brian Rolston had three such seasons with the team.
"It’s only a number but at the same time it’s a nice plateau to hit," Pominville said. "I would be lying to say that I didn’t want to hit it. But it’s nice to get it out of the way. Again, it’s only a number. If I wouldn’t have gotten it, I wouldn’t have been that rattled but it’s nice to get it."
The Wild open the playoffs on Thursday at Colorado, which won the Central Division after the St. Louis Blues lost to Detroit on Sunday. Minnesota went 0-3-1 against the Avalanche this season, as Colorado made a dramatic turnaround in head coach Patrick Roy’s first season.
"Colorado is a very highly-skilled team," forward Matt Cooke said. "They’re a fast team. They’ve got a goaltender that can steal games. Kudos to them, they won our division. So, it’s not going to be an easy challenge. We’re going to have to go out and make sure that we’re at our best and give it all we’ve got."
Minnesota lost Sunday, but had won four straight games and earned points in seven straight games before losing to Nashville. The streak helped the Wild clinch a playoff berth with two games remaining in the season and showed Minnesota it can be competitive with any team.
In the seven-game point streak, the Wild beat playoff teams in Los Angeles, Pittsburgh, Boston, St. Louis and lost in overtime to Chicago.
"I think we have an understanding of what it takes," Cooke said. "We were a desperate hockey club. We showed that we were and we went out and played like we were. I think those are all learning lessons for this group to prove to each person individually, but also as a whole, that we can go out and if we stick within our system and don’t deviate and get our battle level to where it needs to be, we have a great chance of being successful."
Cooke said Minnesota could "well, cliche it, but throw this game out the window."
Being able to prepare themselves for the playoffs is a benefit the Wild earned, instead of having to win on the season’s final day to clinch a playoff berth like they did last season.
"Well, you have to take advantage of that," captain Mikko Koivu said. "I think mentally obviously it is a little bit easier when you don’t have to go all the way to the last game to get into the playoffs. Now we’ve got to start a new season and go from there. It doesn’t matter what happened in the regular season or anything like that. It’s a new season now and we’re going to play against one team for seven games and you never know what’s going to happen. You’ve got to go game by game and like I said, start fresh."