7-4-0 in January
6-4-0 in last ten
6-4-3 in December
The key to making the playoffs in any league, whether it be your beer league or the NHL, is to win more gamers than you lose. The Wild have been doing just that, though not by a huge margin. For example, in December, the team went 6-4-3, earning 15 of a possible 26 points. That is slightly better than .500 hockey, and it was enough to ride from the bottom of the conference to the middle of the playoff race.
What this did was reinstall some measure of hope in the team, and in the fan base. Since climbing onto the playoff bubble, the Wild have found that cracking it and installing themselves as a playoff team is not as easy as moving into position just outside the bubble. "I hear you knockin' but you can't come in" comes to mind.
The Wild continue to do what it takes to win, however inconsistently. If they can get on another winning streak, and get some more of the luck that has seen much of the West fall a part a bit, the Wild are poised to make a move. Sitting at 7-4-0 in January, they still have two more games to play and have won 14 of the possible 22 points. In order to get inside the bubble, and stay there, they need to take one final step and get a nice, long hot streak going.
With the on and off play, this could be difficult. Though, at this point, nothing would be surprising.
The Wild still have little hope to win the Northwest Division. Fourteen points back of the leading Canucks, there just does not look to be enough time left in the season to claim that particular title. Unless of course, the Nucks fall apart, and the Wild get red hot. The knowledge that the Wild absolutely own the Canucks is enough to get by right now. Anytime you have the psychological advantage over the leader, it is a good thing. Playing the Nucks in the first round of the playoffs would be good television, would sell tickets, and could result in an early exit for the Nuckleheads. All of this would be wonderfully good news.
To get to that matchup, the Wild have some work to do. They are only two points outside the 8 spot, and are playing better hockey as of late than the two teams between them and that precious final playoff spot. The Sharks just beat a listless Wild team, and are on a bit of a streak, but are still beatable. The Sharks play in a very good Pacific Division, and points will not be easy to come by for them.
The Avalanche are a familiar foe, and their Achilles heel is about to be exposed. They look to be prepping for the return of Peter Forsberg. While Avs fans and certain beat writers may be overly excited about his return, I see it as a chance to show the Avs just what a mistake it would be. He is old, he is washed up, and he is worn out. Giving a roster spot to him takes one away from someone who could contribute, and that is perfectly fine from the Wild's point of view.
If the Wild can find another burst; find another gear, they can make a push and secure one of the final two spots without much of a fuss. Crushing the Avs on the way past would just be an added bonus.
Where does being just outside the playoff bubble put the Wild in relation to the rest of the league? Not much difference between being just outside in the West, and being at the bottom of the West. Having moved up from second to last in the West to now the tenth spot, the Wild still sit at 18 in league. An improvement over past position, yes, but a position of undying mediocrity.
Hopefully, the playoff push works. A playoff run would be fun to watch, but a high draft pick would be fun to watch in June as well. Decisions, decisions.