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To make playoffs, Wild must make NHL history

It could have been worse for the Minnesota Wild, but not by much.

The Wild on Thursday will play their first game since last Saturday, and while it was a good opportunity to decompress from the stress of what essentially has been a series of must-win games this month, the team lost a lot of ground in the standings while sitting idle.

Minnesota will start Thursday’s 7 p.m. puck drop at Xcel Energy Center nine points out of the Western Conference’s eighth and final playoff position with just 11 regular-season games left. It could have been 10, but Vegas lost to Nashville in overtime on Tuesday night, finishing 2-0-1 since Minnesota last played.

It’s a lot to overcome. In fact, the Wild would have to make history to do it.

Since the NHL moved to an 82-game schedule in 1974-75, no team has rallied to make the postseason after being as many as seven points back with at least 70 games played.

The Wild have improved substantially since John Hynes replaced Dean Evason as coach, going 29-18-4 since Nov. 28, but have been unable to overcome a 5-10-4 start.

“They came back to practice focused,” Hynes said after an hour-long practice at TRIA Rink on Wednesday. “I think both practices were good, had good details to them, I think the pace and execution was good, so we’re not overthinking what’s there. Coming off the break, what we could control were these two days, then making sure the mindset is right going into tomorrow. Then we take it from there.”

The last two wild cards remain in play for Minnesota, but it’s a longshot in either case.

If the Wild were to win out in their last 11 games, they could finish a point ahead of Vegas if the Knights earn no more than 12 of 20 possible points — say, 5-4-2 or 6-4-0 — leaving them with a maximum 98 points. Seventh-place Los Angeles, 10 points up on Minnesota, would have to earn no more than 11 of 22 possible points.

According to the NHL, the furthest back a team has come after 64 games is the 1985-86 Hartford Whalers, who were eight points back and fifth in the old Adams Division when the top four clubs in each division qualified for the playoffs. At 70 games, they were four points out.

The Wild have a couple of things going for them. First, it appears they’ll have center Joel Eriksson Ek and Jonas Brodin back from lower-body injuries on Thursday.

“They had two full, really good real hockey practices,” Hynes said. “So, signs are pointing towards that.”

Another is scheduling. Three of the Wild’s last 11 regular-season games are against the Kings and Knights. If they stay in it, the Wild will have a big game at Los Angeles on April 18. Before that, they’ll see the Knights on Saturday at the X, then again on April 12 in Las Vegas.

“A bit of hope, I think. It’s a lot of points,” Wild goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury said. “(Vegas is) a good team, too, right? Obviously. I don’t know. We’re going to try our best, try to win, see what happens.”

This scenario not only assumes Minnesota goes 11-0-0 the rest of the way, it assumes St. Louis — three points ahead of Minnesota in ninth place — stalls out over its next 10 games, as well.

This is why coach John Hynes has suggested his players ignore the standings down the stretch. Paying attention to what you can’t control, he has said this season, wastes mental energy that could be spent on a game.

This is the approach rookie defenseman Brock Faber took during the team’s four-day layoff. What other teams do, he said, won’t help the Wild “unless we win our games.”

Faber and his teammates know only one thing is certain.

“If we want to make the playoffs, we’ve got to win a lot of games coming up here,” he said.

LONG ODDS

The Wild are nine points out of a playoff spot with 71 games under their belts. Since the NHL moved to an 82-game schedule in 1974-75, only one team has rallied from as many as seven points down to make the postseason. Here are teams that made up the most ground:

Team Season GP Pts.
Washington 2007-08 70 -7
Colorado 2018-19 71 -6
Washington 2007-08 70 -6
Islanders 1993-94 74 -6

Source: NHLstats

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