Preview: Wild vs. Oilers
SAINT PAUL, Minn. — It’s widely known in the hockey world that the game gets much more difficult in the playoffs. With the Minnesota Wild on the verge of clinching their sixth consecutive trip to the postseason, their life just got much tougher.
As they prep for their regular-season home finale on Monday against the Edmonton Oilers, the Wild are having to rapidly adjust to life without both of their top defensemen.
They’d already lost Jared Spurgeon with a groin injury a few weeks ago, and now the word out of Minnesota is that Ryan Suter is out with a fractured fibula, suffered in Saturday night’s 4-1 loss to the Stars in Dallas.
Suter, who has been the team’s mainstay on the blue line since coming to Minnesota as a free agent in the summer of 2012, has been averaging nearly 27 minutes of ice time per game and shouldering an increased load with Spurgeon missing in recent weeks. He went hard into the boards during the loss in Dallas and did not return to the ice.
“That’s a tough one for us. I don’t think I need to explain. We all understand how important he is for our team,” Wild left winger Zach Parise said. “You don’t like to see your teammates or anybody go down like that.”
On Easter Sunday, the Wild made it clear that they expect to have a hole to fill on defense, recalling rookie blue-liner Carson Soucy from their Iowa AHL team. He is expected to make his NHL debut versus the Oilers.
Minnesota sits third in the Central Division with four games to play, and according to one numbers-crunching website, has a better than 98 percent chance of making the playoffs. The Wild are widely expected to open the postseason on the road against the Winnipeg Jets, who have clinched second place in the Central.
The Oilers have three games remaining and come to Minnesota for their final road game of the season having lost four in a row, including a 3-2 decision to the Flames on Saturday night in Calgary.
After a slow start, the Oilers put up a fight against their provincial rivals but came up short in what has become the storyline in an overall disappointing season.
“We decided to play harder and compete a little bit more after the first (period). We can’t complain about the effort or the opportunities we created,” Oilers coach Todd McLellan said. “Numerous two-on-ones and three-on-twos where it’s on the offensive player’s sticks and they’re not going in.
“The other thing that comes into play once again for our team is the power play. We had five opportunities to at least get one to pull us back in it and we never did.”
The Oilers will be looking to sweep the season series with the Wild. Edmonton won 3-2 in Minnesota in December and 4-1 when the teams met in March in Edmonton.