The Wild have been itching for the playoffs to start since they clinched a berth on March 27. Now the Anaheim Ducks await, and Minnesota is playing well at just the right time.
The Wild cruised in their final tuneup before the playoffs, getting 24 saves from Niklas Backstrom in a 5-1 victory over the St. Louis Blues on Saturday night.
"It was a special regular season, accumulating the points we did," Wes Walz said of the franchise-record 104 points. "Now it's a brand new season and we're looking forward to the challenge."
"They're probably the best squad on defense in the NHL," Wild coach Jacques Lemaire said.
Minnesota hasn't been too shabby defensively, either. Backstrom and backup Manny Fernandez combined to win the Jennings trophy for allowing the fewest goals in the league and defensemen Keith Carney, Brent Burns and Kim Johnsson are playing well.
Backstrom was coming off consecutive shutouts of Edmonton, but the Blues broke Minnesota's franchise-record scoreless streak at 169 minutes, 20 seconds when Peter Sejna beat the Finnish goalie between the pads with a shallow angle shot in the second period.
Things seem to be coming together at just the right time for Minnesota, which had a franchise-record, nine-game winning streak last month, but had scuffled a bit after the run was broken on March 27.
But the Wild have won three in a row heading into the postseason and have exhibited many of the elements needed for a deep run -- strong goaltending, tight defense and balanced scoring.
"I think we're ready," Lemaire said.
It will be another postseason without the Blues, who missed the playoffs for the second straight year after a remarkable run of 25 straight appearances. A wretched start to the season -- 7-19-6 - is to blame, but optimism surrounds this young club.
The Blues finished the season strong under new coach Andy Murray, going 27-18-9 with youngsters like Lee Stempniak and Jay McClement stepping in after veterans Keith Tkachuk and Bill Guerin were traded. A win on Saturday would have allowed the Blues to finish above .500.
"If you look at the situation they were in in December with 18 points, we played pretty hard for a long period of time and set a standard for the way we hope to start the year next year," Murray said. "In my opinion, we did end the season on a high note. The people of St. Louis came to respect how hard we worked, and we've laid a foundation here now."
Their situation could be helped further if a few of their draft picks -- No. 1 overall pick Erik Johnson and T.J. Oshie leave college early and sign with the Blues.
St. Louis will also benefit from the return of goaltender Manny Legace, who played well enough this season to earn a two-year contract extension but missed the last 21 games of the season with an injured right knee.
The Blues could have used Legace against the Wild, who knocked starter Jason Bacashihua out of the game with two goals on eight shots in the first period.
Murray went with Sanford to start the second period, and he made a couple of impressive saves the rest of the way, but allowed three goals on 23 shots to the surging Wild.
"We've played some solid hockey lately," Bouchard said. "Confidence-wise, we're there. Now we have a few days to get ready for the Ducks."
- Walz's goal was his first in 30 games.
- Former Minnesota Vikings player and Hall of Fame quarterback Warren Moon attended the game. He got a warm ovation upon receiving a Wild sweater with his No. 1 on it in the second period.
- Murray has Minnesota roots from his one-year stint coaching prep power Shattuck-St. Mary's in Faribault in 1998-99.