Written By Giles Ferrell (ZoneCoverage.com)
“As the great 21st-century philosopher Justin Bieber once said, ‘Never say never.'” – TSN’s James Duthie during trade deadline coverage on Monday.
With Minnesota’s win over St. Louis coupled with Winnipeg’s home regulation loss to Nashville on Tuesday night, the Wild moved within four points of the second-place Jets. But due to Nashville being the team that defeated Winnipeg, the Central Division-leading Predators remain eight points up on Minnesota entering play Wednesday.
So in all likelihood, the Wild aren’t catching the Predators. Nashville is just too good to let an eight-point lead evaporate with less than a quarter of the season to play.
But what about the Jets?
Well, let’s examine the schedules and see if there is a possibility.
Western Conference Playoff Race (Games Ending 2/27) pic.twitter.com/9yKt60GfC1
— Damian Echevarrieta (@Ech28) February 28, 2018
Entering play Wednesday, both teams have 19 games remaining in the season. The season series wrapped up on Jan. 13 with the Jets taking three of four games against the Wild — all in regulation — including that 7-2 rout back in November that signaled the end of the Kyle Quincey era.
Both teams also share an equal amount of games remaining against non-playoff teams, with nine against those currently sitting out of the playoffs. Minnesota has a non-playoff team heavy schedule here in the next couple weeks, playing seven out of the next eight games against those on the outside looking in.
However, that means that the Wild will play 10 of their last 11 against those in the playoffs, including three straight out on the West Coast against Anaheim, Los Angeles and San Jose to end the season.
Minnesota also has a more road-heavy schedule to end the season, playing 11 of 19 away from the friendly confines of Xcel Energy Center. Road play for Minnesota has improved here in the past couple of weeks, as the Wild have rattled off four straight wins — including a sweep of the tri-state area last week.
Winnipeg plays their next three games against non-playoff teams before playing 11 of 12 against those currently in the playoff picture. They then finish out the season by playing the last four games against Ottawa, Montreal, Calgary and Chicago.
The Jets — much like the Wild — have struggled away from home, but have picked up play in recent weeks winning four out of the last five away from MTS Centre. Winnipeg does have the advantage of playing one extra game at home in the final 19 games over the Wild, playing nine of the final 19 in the Manitoba capital.
While they don’t play each other, both teams have really similar schedules to close out the season. So it will come down — as always — to who can play the best over the final month and change, which would favor Minnesota.
— Aaron Sickman (@asickman19) February 26, 2018
But it is worth pointing out, Winnipeg did just make a big splash at the trade deadline to bolster their already explosive lineup.
All in all, the Wild definitely have a chance to catch the Jets and secure home-ice advantage in the first round of the playoffs. They just have to make hay with their lighter schedule here in the next two weeks and hope that hot play continues on into the final three weeks of the season.
If you should take anything away from all of this, it is that the Wild and Jets appear destined for their first-ever playoff meeting — and that will definitely be some must-see hockey.