Bruce Boudreau offered perhaps the boldest words spoken this season by an NHL head coach on Thursday afternoon, when he guaranteed his team, the struggling Minnesota Wild, would make a seventh straight trip to the postseason.
“We’re going to make the playoffs,” Boudreau said following practice. “That’s about as elaborate as I want to get. You want me to predict how many wins we’re going to have in the last month and a half? No. But we’re going to make the playoffs.”
Then again, if a head coach is going to make such a stout statement, best to do so when his team is about to face an opponent that can make him look prescient.
The Wild will look to get back on track against the New Jersey Devils on Friday night in Saint Paul, Minn.
The Devils remained winless through the first two legs of a three-game Western Conference road trip Thursday night, when they squandered an early two-goal lead and fell to the Chicago Blackhawks, 5-2.
The Wild last played Tuesday, when their skid continued with a 5-4 loss to the host Philadelphia Flyers.
Minnesota has lost six of seven (1-4-2) to fall into a tie for the final Western Conference wild card with Vancouver, though the Wild have two games in hand on the Canucks.
However, if recent history is any indication, the Devils may be exactly what the Wild need to steady themselves in the playoff race.
The Wild’s lone win since the All-Star Break came last Saturday, when they beat the host Devils 4-2. Minnesota is just one of several Western teams to take advantage of struggling New Jersey, which is 1-4-1 in its past six games. In that stretch, the Devils have lost to the Blackhawks, the St. Louis Blues and the Los Angeles Kings.
If the Wild are going to keep pace and back up Boudreau’s proclamation, they will need to take advantage of the Devils for the second time in a week.
“I know our team,” Boudreau said Thursday. “We’ve made it before. I don’t know if the right word is precipice, but we’re on the edge of things being really good rather than being very mediocre.”
The Devils slipped on to the wrong side of that line long ago. New Jersey opened the season with four straight wins but since has produced just three other winning streaks, one of three games and two of two games. The Devils sit in 30th place in the NHL, ahead of only the Ottawa Senators.
The loss to the Blackhawks marked the seventh time this season the Devils dropped a game they led 2-0. Still, there is little for New Jersey to do but take solace in jumping out early and hoping it eventually can put together a complete game.
“You have to come into every day with a positive attitude and believe you’re going to win the game,” Devils goalie Cory Schneider said Thursday night, when he took the loss after recording 31 saves. “As a group, we did a lot of good things tonight, and we’ll just build off those to carry us into the next game.”
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