The Wild sputtered into the playoffs. They went 5-8-1 and were outscored 41-25 in April. They scored more than two goals just twice in the month, were shut out three times and allowed four or more goals five times. They fought off the Columbus Blue Jackets for the final playoff spot by winning two of their final three games. In between their two wins, the Wild lost 6-1 to the Edmonton Oilers.
The Wild haven't appeared in the playoffs since the 2007-08 season. This will be their fourth playoff appearance in franchise history. They haven't advanced past the first round since the 2002-03 season.
Wild goaltender Niklas Backstrom has been as inconsistent as his team. He was pulled from three games in April. He's allowed three or more goals in seven of his last 14 games. But he also held the Los Angeles Kings and Colorado Avalanche to one goal in two of his past three starts to help secure the playoff spot. He's been just as up-and-down against the Blackhawks this season. He replaced starting goaltender Josh Harding in the first period of the Wild's first meeting with the Blackhawks, and he stopped all 28 shots he faced in leading the Wild to a 3-2 shootout win. In their second game, Backstrom allowed four first-period goals and was pulled. In the final game of the series, he stopped 30 of 31 shots and the Wild lost, 1-0. He was 24-15-3 with a 2.48 goals-against average and a .909 save percentage on the season.
The Wild are in the middle of the pack in most categories. They rank tied for 22nd in goals per game at 2.46, tied for 15th in goals-against per game at 2.60, 16th in power-play percentage at 17.9 and 18th in penalty-kill percentage at 80.7.
One of the Wild's greatest strengths is their faceoff ability. They ranked third in the league with a 52.4 faceoff percentage. The Blackhawks and Wild were nearly even in faceoffs in their three games this season. The Blackhawks won 92 faceoffs, and the Wild won 89. Both teams have two players ranked among the top 25 in faceoff leaders.
The Wild's offseason acquisitions of forward Zach Parise and defenseman Ryan Suter -- two players the Blackhawks went after -- paid off this season. Parise led the Wild with 18 goals and 38 points. Suter had a team-high 28 assists and was third on the team with 32 points. The two players weren't at their best in April, however, when they combined for four goals and eight assists, after combining for 10 goals and 22 assists in March.
Two of the three games between the Blackhawks and Wild this season were decided by one goal. The Blackhawks won 1-0 in regulation and the Wild won 3-2 in a shootout. Both teams excelled in close games all season. The Blackhawks were 19-3-5 with a .704 winning percentage in one-goal games, and the Wild were 13-5-3 with a .619 winning percentage. The Blackhawks ranked second in the league, and the Wild were sixth.
Rookies Charlie Coyle, a 21-year-old forward, and Jonas Brodin, a 19-year-old defenseman, have been key to the Wild's success this season. Coyle has 14 points on the season and had four goals and three assists in April. Brodin is in the running for the Calder Memorial Trophy. He has two goals, nine assists, a plus-three rating, 60 blocked shots and 18 takeaways on the season.
Forward Jason Pominville, who was acquired from the Buffalo Sabres at the trade deadline, helped the Wild in their playoff push. He had four goals and five assists in 10 games since being acquired. He is considered day-to-day after taking an elbow in the face recently.
The Blackhawks and Wild made a trade in February 2010 that sent Kim Johnsson and the rights to Nick Leddy to the Blackhawks and defenseman Cam Barker to the Wild. Johnsson played eight games for the Blackhawks and was a free agent after the season. The 22-year-old Leddy has played in 176 games for the Blackhawks in the past three seasons. Barker finished the 2009-2010 season with the Wild and also played the 2010-2011 season with them before being bought out of his contract. He had 12 points in 71 games for the Wild.