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NHL Minnesota Wild

Minnesota Wild: Playoff Hopes Hinge On Goaltender Niklas Backstrom

Minnesota Wild Playoffs Backstrom

Don McPeak – USA TODAY Sports

The Minnesota Wild have played a lot better as of late than they did at the start of the season, but are still struggling to win consistently. The Wild will turn to Niklas Backstrom for a fifth straight start tonight, in the first of two consecutive meetings with the Colorado Avalanche. Backstrom has appeared in 20 of the Wild’s 25 games this season, and whether or not they make the playoffs this season will depend on how well he is able to play for them down the stretch.

The Wild currently hold the eighth spot in the Western Conference standings, just barely staying ahead of the San Jose Sharks and Nashville Predators. It won’t be impossible for the team to catch the Vancouver Canucks for the top spot in the Northwest Dvision, as the Canucks have similarly struggled with consistency.

Minnesota began the season with the tandem of Backstrom and Josh Harding, despite the latter being diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in the offseason. Harding struggled early on and has since been sidelined due to complications with his medication. Rookie Darcy Kuemper performed well in a few relief starts, and Matt Hackett is currently with the Wild in a backup role, but the team seems content to ride Backstrom for the majority of their starts. His 11-7-2 record is on par with his career marks, while his 2.29 goals against average is much improved from the previous three seasons.

The Wild don’t face another back-to-back until the end of the month, which clears Backstrom to start the next eight games if that is the direction the team wants to go. If he can continue playing at his current level, and gets offensive support from Zach Parise, Dany Heatley and Mikko Koivu the Wild should be in a great position to make good on their offseason signings and make the playoffs for the first time in five seasons.

Jonathan Katje is an NHL blogger for Rant Sports. Follow him on Twitter @JKatje or add him to you network on Google.