Since going on a seven-game winning streak in the final weeks of March to take over the Northwest Division lead, the Minnesota Wild have lost two of their last three games and are in danger of dropping out of the top three spots in the standings. Starting Wednesday they face the toughest four-game stretch of their remaining schedule, and will not only need their offense to find its scoring touch again, but also need a strong defense corps to come up big against some of the Western Conference’s top teams.
One of the biggest strengths of the Wild this season has been the play of their defense, led by offseason acquisition Ryan Suter. While he got off to a slow start this season, Suter has been playing like a Norris Trophy candidate lately and has three goals and 28 points. He has been paired with Jonas Brodin, who continues to impress in his rookie season. While his contributions on the stat sheet are minimal (he scored his first goal on Thursday), his play on the blue line has been great. Brodin is plus-7 while logging around 22 minutes per game. The surprise of the season on defense has been Jared Spurgeon, who has five goals and 13 points (four goals, six points on the power play) while playing more than 20 minutes per game.
The Wild face the San Jose Sharks on Wednesday, a preview of a potential playoff match-up if the standings stayed the way they currently are. Their road trip will continue against the defending Stanley Cup champion Los Angeles Kings on Thursday and against the surprising Columbus Blue Jackets on Sunday. On Tuesday they host the conference-leading Chicago Blackhawks, and their defense will be tested by the league’s second-most potent offense. The Wild have all the pieces in place to end a playoff drought that stretches back to 2008, and if their defense can help the team get off to a strong start to April they will be in good shape to hang on to one of the top spots heading into the postseason.