Normally, a 4-0 victory over the defending Stanley Cup champions is reason enough for a third-year NHL expansion team to celebrate.
But for the Minnesota Wild, the win Sunday was more than just their second win over the Detroit Red Wings this season. With the victory, the Wild clinched a playoff berth in the tough Western Conference.
I think my reaction to this news was similar to that of most Minnesota hockey fans: I had to be dreaming.
Until Sunday, I was still basking in the glory of professional hockey’s return to Minnesota. It wasn’t until sometime this winter that I ended my near-daily rambling about the North Stars’ run to the Stanley Cup Finals in ’91, so how am I supposed to accept the reality of the Wild getting into the playoffs?
I thought it had to be a dream, and I thought the proverbial bubble would burst after Tuesday’s 4-0 loss to the Wings, but it didn’t. Minnesota is still going to the playoffs.
So now that the dream turned out to be reality, Minnesota hockey fans can spend the next few weeks talking about potential playoff matchups for our beloved Wild. While many teams are bunched together in the West, there is one playoff matchup that practically jumps off of the page and kicks us in the face.
As of Wednesday night, the Dallas Stars were in second place in the Western Conference with six games to play. After Wednesday’s 1-0 loss to St. Louis, Minnesota sat in seventh in the West with five games to play.
If Dallas stays in second, and the Wild stay in seventh, it’s Wild vs. Stars in the first round.
That, to me, is perfection.
The team that left Minnesota for no good reason a decade ago is playing the team that took its place. There can be no better team for the Wild to play in its first playoff appearance than the Stars.
Throughout the series, I’m sure the Twin Cities – and the rest of the nation’s hockey fans, for that matter – would be inundated with highlights of the North Stars’ playoff season in ’91, and there would be endless comparisons between that team and this year’s Wild team.
Other comparisons brought up will include the fact that the Wild won the season series with the Stars this year, 3-1, and that the all-time series is tied 6-6-1.
What this all means is pretty simple. If the two teams meet in the playoffs, the Wild will beat the Stars. There are no “ifs” or “maybes” in my mind. The Wild will beat the Stars in a playoff series.
They will beat the Stars because they know that Minnesotans still consider the Stars’ defection to be a personal attack on their character. To Minnesotans, every Stars-Wild matchup is our opportunity to show how we earned the nickname of “The State of Hockey.”
Wild against Stars, first round. Those five words would be enough to send an already-passionate sellout crowd at the Xcel Energy Center into a frenzy. That crazed atmosphere would carry over to the players on the ice, making an already tense rivalry so much better.
Wild against Stars, first round. This has turned out to be a pretty good dream. I can’t wait to see what happens next.