March 1 – Day 138 – A Wild wildcard push

It took overtime, but Detroit was able to beat one of the best offenses in the league 3-2 in Dallas in yesterday’s Game of the Day.

It took 31:50 of play before Detroit struck the first goal, courtesy of an Second Star of the Game Andreas Athanasiou wrister, assisted by Tomas Tatar and Gustav Nyquist, but their lead lasted only 5:42 before Colton Sceviour leveled the scored, assisted by Third Star Vernon Fiddler and Alex Goligoski (his 22nd helper of the season).  The one-all score held into the second intermission.

6:38 after resuming play, Athanasiou scored his second of the night, assisted by Mike Green (his 18th helper of the season) and Luke Glendening.  The score was again leveled, but not until only 1:31 remained in regulation.  Fiddler takes the credit, assisted by Ales Hemsky and Jason Demers, and his goal sent the game to overtime.

Thanks to a Mattias Janmark hooking penalty, Detroit earned a four-on-three power play, which they used to their advantage to win the game on First Star Pavel Datsyuk’s 13th score of the season.

Jimmy Howard earns the win after saving 39 of 41 (95.1%), while Antti Niemi takes the loss, saving 30 of 33 (90.9%).

The DtFR Game of the Day series now stands at 61-34-13, favoring the home squads by 30 points over the roadies.

It’s a busy Tuesday in the NHL, with a solid nine games on tap.   Two games drop the puck at 7 p.m. eastern (Calgary at Boston and Carolina at New Jersey), followed half an hour later by three more (Pittsburgh at Washington [NBCSN], Edmonton at Buffalo and St. Louis at Ottawa).  Another trio drops the puck at 8 p.m. eastern (Dallas at Nashville, Colorado at Minnesota and Florida at Winnipeg), with this evening’s nightcap, the New York Islanders at Vancouver, beginning at 10 p.m. eastern.

Four of tonight’s games are divisional rivalries (Carolina at New Jersey, Pittsburgh at Washington, Dallas at Nashville and Colorado at Minnesota), and only two are between teams currently qualifying for the playoffs (Pittsburgh at Washington and Dallas at Nashville).

Usually, I would choose either the PittsburghWashington or the DallasNashville game, but there’s an even bigger game, a battle for the second wildcard spot, going on this evening in the Xcel Energy Center.

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Tonight’s game will be Colorado‘s sixth in the Game of the Day series, where they currently own a 4-1-0 record.  Their most recent showing in our series was January 27, a 4-3 victory in Los Angeles.  Minnesota has been featured seven times before this evening, and own a 4-3-0 record in such games.  They were last featured January 3 when they lost 2-1 in Florida.

The 32-28-4 Colorado Avalanche currently occupy fifth in the Central Division and eighth in the Western Conference, good enough for the second wildcard position.  It has been their top-10 offense that has led them to that position, and it has been necessary – the defense is eighth-worst.

Even with Nathan MacKinnon’s 220 shots, the Avs have fired the puck only 1826 times, but 9.3% have found the back of the net for 172 goals (led by Matt Duchene’s 26 tallies), ninth-most in the league.  The most exciting thing about this offense is that they do not rely on the power play, as Colorado connects on only 19.07% of opportunities for 41 goals (led by Jarome Iginla’s 11 extra-man tallies), only the 13th-best in the league.

It has been a good thing Colorado has found such success on the offensive end, because the defense has been… lacking.  Even with Francois Beauchemin’s 195 blocks, Colorado has allowed 2016 shots to reach 22-17-3 Semyon Varlamov and co., of which they’ve collectively saved 91.6% for 181 goals against, eighth-most in the league.  The defensive special teams have clamped down a little bit more, as they kill off 80.2% of penalties for 40 power play goals against, 12th-worst in the league.  To make up for that, the Avalanche have scored seven short-handed goals, two more than the league average.

The Avalanche last played Saturday at Coors Field, where they fell 5-3 at the hands of the Red Wings.  With a regulation win over the Wild this evening, they not only improve their lead over ninth place to four points, they also have the potential to pull within three points of first wildcard Nashville should they lose to the Stars.

The 28-25-10 Minnesota Wild currently occupy sixth place in the Central Division and ninth in the Western Conference.  While that may be good enough to get them ‘first team out’ status, close counts only in horseshoes and hand grenades, so management has done all they can to get the state of hockey another playoff birth.

So far this season, they’ve been led by their defense.  Jared Spurgeon has 125 blocks to his credit, which has helped lead the Wild to allowing only 1801 shots to reach 22-21-5 Devan Dubnyk and co., of which they’ve collectively saved 91.8% for 159 goals against, 12th-fewest in the league.  The overall defense hasn’t gotten much help from the special teams, as the Wild kill only 76.88% of their penalties for 37 power play goals against, the third-worst rate in the NHL.  To slightly lessen the effects of those stats, Minnesota has scored six short-handed goals, led by Erik Haula’s two.

Even with Zach Parise’s 182 shots, the Wild have only managed to fire the puck 1844 times, with 8.9% finding the back of the net for 164 goals (led by Charlie Coyle’s 19 tallies), 13th-fewest in the league.  The power play has been slightly better, capitalizing on 18.59% of opposing penalties for 37 power play goals (led by Mikko Koivu’s seven extra-man tallies), the 14th-best rate in the league.

With a win this evening, the Minnesota Wild will propel themselves into the second wildcard position by virtue of one fewer game played than Colorado.  If they lose, Minnesota‘s lead over 10th place could slip to four points if Vancouver beats the Islanders.

Minnesota has yet to lose in regulation in the season series, and as such, lead it 2-0-1.  That being said, it was the last meeting between these squads that Colorado was able to earn two points, as they won the back half of a home-and-home series on December 7 2-1 in overtime.

Some players to keep an eye on in tonight’s game include Colorado‘s Duchene (26 goals [tied for ninth-most in the league]) and Minnesota‘s Koivu (43 points, 22 of which are even-strength assists and seven are power play goals [all lead the team]).

Seeing as Minnesota is the more balanced of these teams and they have the home ice advantage, I think the Wild beat the Avalanche and re-enter the playoff picture for the first time in months.