There were a whole lot of storylines heading into Monday’s clash between the West-leading Wild and the just-outside-the-playoff-picture Kings. The day before, both teams had recruited reinforcements for their respective postseason pushes: L.A. with a surprise trade for goalie Ben Bishop, and Minnesota acquiring Martin Hanzal and Ryan White. And to top it off, Wild forwards Zach Parise and Jason Pominville were just diagnosed with mumps, victims of what looks like another epidemic set to sweep the league.
White scored his first goal for the Wild. (“Definitely not used to that right now,” he said of the sellout crowd’s ovation. “It’s a little bit different down in Arizona.”) Jonathan Quick wasn’t very good in just his second game back from a four-month injury layoff, and his first game since learning he’ll have to fight Bishop for his starting job. And, outside of all the upheaval, Mikael Granlund scored just 12 seconds into the extra frame to give Minnesota the 5-4 OT win.
It was a corker; Granlund carved up all three Kings and put a move on Quick that just wasn’t going to be stopped:
“It’s unfortunate that he doesn’t get the attention that maybe somebody from New York or Toronto would get because he does that very often,” coach Bruce Boudreau said of Granlund.
Granlund, with his 20th goal and 56th point, is having a breakout season at age 25. And he’s certainly not a household name, compared to certain other forwards with similar numbers or highlight-reel abilities. The best way to change that, of course, is to force people to watch him play. And the only way to do that is for the Wild to make a deep playoff run and put him on national TV every other night for a month or two.
The Wild, too, don’t feel like they get the respect they deserve, and there’s something to that. It’s partly geographical, and partly a run of early playoff exits—there’s no track record to make people believe their faith or emotional investment will be rewarded here—but stripped of context, the Wild are rolling. They’re three points clear of the Blackhawks, with two games in hand. They’re just three points back of the Capitals, with a game in hand, in the race for the Presidents’ Trophy. They’re as complete as any team in the league, ranking second in goals per game and first in goals allowed per game, buoyed by a revelatory season from goalie Devan Dubnyk, who leads the NHL in save percentage.
So, yeah, the Wild are for real. That doesn’t mean they’ll actually do anything in the playoffs this year, only that a deep run would be no fluke.
All of this assuming, mind you, they aren’t all felled by swollen glands.