The Minnesota Wild’s recent slump has loosened their grip on the top wild-card spot in the Western Conference.
The surging Phoenix Coyotes are more than willing to take it from them.
The Wild put that postseason slot on the line Saturday night when they travel to the desert to face the Coyotes.
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Minnesota (37-26-11) has dropped three of its last four games, while Phoenix has recorded at least a point in six of its last seven. That run has put the Coyotes just a point behind the Wild in the race for the West’s first wild card position.
The top wild-card team would likely play the Pacific Division champion in the first round of the playoffs and avoid St. Louis, currently No. 1 in the conference. The Wild were beaten 5-1 by the Blues on Thursday, their ninth consecutive loss to St. Louis.
Among the issues in the defeat was Minnesota’s poor play on special teams. The Wild were 0 for 6 on the power play while allowing the Blues to score on two of their five chances with the extra skater.
"The game for us was very frustrating from a special teams standpoint, something we talked about before the game that this was a team we could meet in the first round," left winger Zach Parise told to the team’s official website. "We wanted to make it tough for them and I don’t think we did that."
Phoenix (36-26-12) is coming off a successful road trip, securing five points in three games against East opponents to remain right on the Wild’s heels. The solid stretch has helped the Coyotes open up a sizable lead for the second wild-card spot in the West.
Securing one of those berths is looking more and more likely for the Coyotes, who play five of their final eight regular-season games in Phoenix, where they’ve gone 4-1-0 since March 4. The lone loss came in their last game there March 22 – a 4-2 defeat against Boston – but the Coyotes haven’t dropped two straight at home since early January.
"Our game, playing well, will get us one of those spots," coach Dave Tippett said. "If we play the way we can and the way we hope to; we just want to get ourselves in the playoffs."
Among the keys to the Coyotes’ recent success has been a balanced offensive effort and a spark from their backup goalie. Seven different players scored during the three-game trip, while reserve goaltender Thomas Greiss has anchored the defense.
Filling in for Mike Smith, who left a 4-3 overtime loss at the New York Rangers on Monday with a leg strain, Greiss has a 92.5 save percentage in his two starts since.
"The guys have played great in front of me and done an awesome job, it’s great to have the confidence from them," Greiss said following Thursday’s 3-2 shootout win over New Jersey. "The goalie’s job is to have a short memory and move on.
"But it was a great trip for us."
With Smith expected to miss two weeks, Greiss should be in goal against the Wild.
The teams have split two previous meetings this season, each winning on the road. The Wild won for the fourth time in their last five in Phoenix with a 4-1 victory Jan. 9.