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NHL Minnesota Wild

NHL Playoffs 2013: The Five Most Important Players for the Minnesota Wild

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NHL Playoffs: Five Key Players for the Minnesota Wild

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Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports

The Minnesota Wild made headlines last July with the signing of Zach Parise and Ryan Suter in free agency, so the lockout that shortened the season was certainly bad news for fans and followers of the franchise.

The Wild finished the 48-game regular season with a 26-19-3 record (55 points), which earned them the eighth seed in the Western Conference and a date in the first round with the Chicago Blackhawks. Minnesota needed a win in their regular season finale over the Colorado Avalanche last Saturday to clinch their spot in the postseason, as a tough April (five wins in 13 games) put their playoff hopes on the ropes.

The NHL playoffs are the most unpredictable in the four major sports, as upsets routinely happen and teams that are appointed as favorites to win it all find themselves going home early. As an example, the eighth seed Los Angeles Kings beat the top three seeds in the Western Conference (the Vancouver Canucks, St. Louis Blues and Phoenix Coyotes) on their way to winning the Stanley Cup in 2012.

Right wing Jason Pominville, who had nine points in 10 games for the Wild after being acquired at the trade deadline, will be sidelined for at least Game 1 against the Blackhawks on Tuesday night. His injury has been classified as “upper body” as a bit of hockey subterfuge, but he is suffering from a concussion and his status for the entire playoffs may be up in the air.

With the eyes of the State of Hockey upon them in the playoffs for the first time in five years, here are the five most important players for the Wild.

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5. C Mikko Koivu

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Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports

Koivu was Minnesota’s second-leading point scorer during the regular season with 37 (11 goals and 26 assists), but his defensive performance will also be critical for the Wild going forward. Koivu’s contributions on both ends of the ice may go unnoticed at times, but he will be a key barometer for how the entire team plays this postseason.

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4. RW Devin Setoguchi

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Tim Fuller-USA TODAY Sports

Setoguchi has had some good moments this season, but his inconsistent performance has to end in the playoffs with Pominville’s status unclear. He has 48 games of postseason experience from his time with the San Jose Sharks, with 14 goals (three game-winners) and 10 assists on his resume. Setoguchi needs to provide some secondary scoring for Minnesota during the playoffs, and if his goals come at crucial moments that is merely a bonus.

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3. D Ryan Suter

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Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports

Suter had a bit of an up-and-down first season with the Wild, but he is clearly the team’s top defenseman and will always be on the ice against the opponent’s top forward line. A strong postseason performance from Suter is a virtual requirement if Minnesota has any chance to advance.

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2. LW Zach Parise

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Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports

Parise led Minnesota during the regular season with 38 points (18 goals and 20 assists) and he sets the tone for everyone else with his work ethic. He also has 61 games of playoff experience from his time with the New Jersey Devils, with 43 points (21 goals, 22 assists) to his credit.

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1. Goaltender Niklas Backstrom

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Chris Humphreys-USA TODAY Sports

Backstrom finished the regular season with the third-most wins in the NHL (24) and he started 41 out of 48 games. There is some concern the 35-year old is worn down at this late stage of the season with the workload he has had, but the Wild do not have a viable option behind him.