With last night's 3-2 overtime win over the Nashville Predators the Wild have reached the three-week Olympic break in good shape in terms of the Western Conference playoff picture. The Wild have 69 points and currently lead the Western Conference wild card race by six points over their closest pursuer, the Vancouver Canucks.
After an abysmal December which ended with a six-game losing streak that nearly cost head coach Mike Yeo his job the Wild had a very nice January, winning nine of fourteen games and also winning two of three so far in February. Among those nine wins in January were a third win this season over defending Stanley Cup champion Chicago (2-1 at home on Jan. 23) and also what at the time was only the second regulation home loss of the season for the Pacific Division leading Anaheim Ducks (4-2 on Jan. 28).
What was more encouraging about the Wild's resurgence in January was the fact that captain Mikko Koivu was out of the lineup almost the entire month due to a broken ankle suffered on Jan. 2 vs the Washington Capitals, and without superstar forward Zach Parise who missed 14 games with a foot injury in December and January and only returned to the lineup for the Chicago game on Jan. 23.
Further, the Wild were without the services of goaltenders Josh Harding (complications from treatment for Multiple Sclerosis) and Niklas Backstrom (abdominal injury) for most of the month. But rookie Darcy Kuemper stepped in and showed the Wild the future may be now by playing rock solid in the nets for them. Kuemper figures to carry the load in goal post-Olympic break too as he has earned the position with his play thus far in 2014.
The Wild are sending four skaters to the Olympics in Sochi, Russia. Parise and star defenseman Ryan Suter will suit up for Team USA, center Mikael Granlund will play for Finland and forward Nino Niederreiter will take the ice for his native Switzerland in Sochi. Captain Mikko Koivu was supposed to play for Team Finland along side Granlund but his broken ankle has not healed enough to allow him to go. He will instead try to heal completely and eventually practice with the Wild during the Olympic break with hopes he can rejoin the team after the break.
A person has to feel for Koivu who figured to be captain of Team Finland but it was the right call. A one month recovery from a broken ankle is not realistic. In most cases at least two months are needed.
When the Wild return from the break their schedule is highlighted by a lot of games against teams pursuing them for the playoffs and also Eastern Conference opponents. Although they will be playing a schedule that is mostly favorable to them they will need to stay on top of their game if they want to start putting more distance between themselves and the teams pursuing them for the playoffs.
The Wild proved in January that when they bring their game they can play with any team in the league in any arena. In the recent past injuries like those the Wild have suffered this season would have sunk their playoffs hopes but this Wild team is deeper than arguably any previous one before it and when they play their game, they can compete with any team in the league.