ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) - The Minnesota Wild looked like they were going to miss the postseason for the fifth straight year following a terrible start to April.
A clutch win over the defending Stanley Cup champions, though, has Minnesota on the verge of returning to the playoffs.
The Wild only need to beat Edmonton at home Friday night or win at Colorado on Saturday to secure a playoff berth, and the Oilers enter this matchup playing even worse than Minnesota this month.
The Wild (25-18-3) lost eight of their first 11 in April, including a couple at home when they dominated most of the night only to lose a critical contest.
On Tuesday, they were able to match Los Angeles’ intensity.
The time on the scoreboard was ticking toward zero and the Wild were clinging to a one-goal lead the Kings weren’t ready to give up on.
Kings defenseman Slava Voynov signaled to a teammate on the other side he was open, corralled a perfect through-the-slot pass at the far edge of the right circle and wound up for the potential tying shot. Wild goalie Niklas Backstrom lunged to block the puck with the middle of his right leg and smothered it in the crease with help from defenseman Ryan Suter with 11 seconds left.
Almost everyone in the arena exhaled, and the Wild won 2-1 to avoid a third straight loss.
“You just have to stick with it. We talked before: There’s going to be ups and downs,” captain Mikko Koivu said.
After signing Suter and Zach Parise to mega contracts last summer, this lockout-shortened season took on a playoffs-or-bust vibe. In January and March, the Wild’s first postseason appearance since 2008 looked like a mere formality. In February and April, not so much.
They lost 6-1 at San Jose last Thursday and 4-1 at home to Calgary on Sunday, heightening the tension and pressure to the point where a team meeting was held before Monday’s practice. The clear-the-air session apparently did some good.
“It’s just every game we’re trying to do the same things that we’re supposed to do, and a lot of that is mental right now getting toward the end of the season,” Koivu said. “Your mind has to be in it each and every shift. It’s not about effort. It’s about making the right plays.”
They did that against the Kings.
“The last game could’ve unraveled us, too, and it didn’t. That’s how you respond,” coach Mike Yeo said.
Minnesota hasn’t come undone in its meetings with the Oilers (17-22-7) over the past few seasons. The Wild have won all three matchups this year, outscoring Edmonton 12-6, to improve to 13-2-0 in the series since the start of the 2010-11 season.
Matt Cullen has two goals and two assists against the Oilers this season, while Charlie Coyle and Kyle Brodziak have each scored twice. Backstrom has been in net for all three games, and he’s 11-1-0 with a 1.96 goals-against average in his last 12 starts versus Edmonton.
That doesn’t bode well for an Oilers team that has totaled two goals during a three-game skid. Edmonton lost 4-1 to Chicago at home on Wednesday night, dropping to 1-9-0 in its last 10.
“The individual errors are just killing us at the moment,” said coach Ralph Krueger, whose team finishes the season Saturday with a visit from Vancouver. “We need to be very cognizant about the importance of reacting to this. The results are less important than the way we are playing and executing right now.
“We’re being tested right now in the severest of ways with the losing month like this. We should all expect more from each other.”