Associated Press, Published April 27 2013
Wild make playoffs with win over AvalancheDENVER – Lounging in front of his locker, music blaring in the background, Mikko Koivu chatted about what it meant to the team, the organization and the city to make it back to the playoffs for the first time in five years.
Yeah, but what about him? What did it mean to him?
Only then did the gravity of the moment begin to dawn on the captain of the Minnesota Wild.
“This,” Koivu said, “is a big deal.”
That’s putting it mildly.
Devin Setoguchi broke a second-period tie and Niklas Backstrom stopped 29 shots, helping the Wild secure the last playoff spot in the Western Conference with a 3-1 win over the Colorado Avalanche on Saturday night.
Zach Parise scored and Pierre-Marc Bouchard added a late empty-net goal for the Wild, who earned the No. 8 seed and will face top-seeded Chicago in the first round of the postseason. Minnesota had a chance to wrap up a spot on Friday, but fell 6-1 at home to Edmonton.
That lopsided loss led to an anxious 24 hours. It also led to a team meeting, when coach Mike Yeo got to look into the eyes of his players and see if they were ready.
They were, too.
“I was very confident going into today, knowing the group we have, knowing the leadership we have, seeing how we’ve responded in the past,” Yeo said. “If you’re not on the inside and don’t know the guys you have, it’s a little more difficult (to understand).”
The Wild were thought to be almost a lock for the postseason after investing $196 million in free agents Ryan Suter and Parise. But they had to sweat it out to the last game of the regular season.
Just a month ago, the Wild led the Northwest Division but swayed down the stretch, going 5-8-1.
They had no wiggle room as Columbus – tied with the Wild for the final spot heading into the last game – rallied to beat Nashville, 3-1. Minnesota held the tiebreaker over the Blue Jackets, provided the team beat Colorado.
Yeo never once asked about the Columbus score. Neither did his players.
“Operated under the assumption they were going to win and we needed to win this game,” Yeo explained.
Not once did the Avs broadcast the Blue Jackets’ highlights on the scoreboard, either. They could have, just to make the Wild grip their sticks a little tighter.
“Very classy by them,” Koivu said. “We were able to focus on our game. It helped a little bit, to focus on your game.”
Making the postseason is a big step for a team that hasn’t been there since the 2007-08 season.
“Let’s make it clear: We’re not done,” Yeo said. “We’re not going to sit on cloud nine and say this is a huge accomplishment. This is a step, a big step, a difficult step for us.
“Now that confidence is there.”
Ryan O’Reilly had the lone goal for Colorado, which finished in last place in the West. It remains to be seen if coach Joe Sacco is retained after the Avalanche failed to make the playoffs for a third straight season.
“I’m going to go about my business as usual. Just as I always do,” Sacco said. “My job is to coach this team. ... We’re certainly headed in the right direction.
“As far as those decisions that will be made, those are the decisions that are out of my hands. I’m not really worried about that right now.”
Minnesota 1 1 1 – 3
Colorado 1 0 0 – 1
First period: 1, Minnesota, Parise 18 (Coyle, Koivu), 6:42. 2, Colorado, O’Reilly 6 (Landeskog, Bordeleau), 18:07.
Second period: 3, Minnesota, Setoguchi 13 (Gilbert, Cullen), 12:20 (pp).
Third period: 4, Minnesota, Bouchard 8 (Spurgeon, Clutterbuck), 19:56 (en).
Shots on Goal: Minnesota 16-10-7 – 33. Colorado 4-11-15 – 30.
Goalies: Minnesota, Backstrom. Colorado, Varlamov. A – 17,731 (18,007). T – 2:24.