The music in the visiting locker room was thumping. Louder and louder it grew behind the control of Devin Setoguchi. The celebration was just getting warmed up. Pierre-Marc Bouchard, the man who has played more games in a Wild sweater than any other active player, was trying to describe everything he's been through in nine seasons with the Wild. Finally, with the music getting louder, he didn't know what else to say, so he shrugged, one hand still clutching a slice of cheese pizza. He smiled. "It just feels good," he said. Sometimes the simplest of summations explains the most. The Wild clinched their first playoff appearance in five years at the Pepsi Center with a 3-1 win over the Colorado Avalanche on Saturday, April 27. Bouchard put home the exclamation point that got the celebrations started with an empty-net goal with 4 seconds remaining. The goal ended a heart-pounding final six minutes of play. The Wild were clinging to a 2-1 lead and, after the Detroit Red Wings and Columbus Blue Jackets already had locked up wins, needed to hold on to make the playoffs for the first time since 2008, when they lost on the road to the Avs. Shot after shot was unleashed at Niklas Backstrom during those final minutes. The Avalanche wanted nothing more than to play spoiler. But a night after allowing three goals on five shots, Backstrom turned aside all 15 third-period shots he faced. And shortly after Bouchard's empty-netter, Backstrom was hugging each player in celebration. "It is tough to get there," he said of the playoffs. "You really have to appreciate that. But on the other hand, you don't play to get in the playoffs, you play to win." Because of Detroit's win, the Wild drew the eighth seed and a first-round series against the Presidents' Trophy-winning Chicago Blackhawks. That series might start Wednesday, May 1, to avoid a potential conflict with the Chicago Bulls, who already have the United Center reserved Thursday for Game 6 of their playoff series with Brooklyn, if it makes it that far. The Columbus Blue Jackets were the odd team out in the Western Conference despite a win Saturday. "It's the best team in the league," Backstrom said of the Blackhawks, "so it's going to be a hard challenge." First, there was time to celebrate a playoff berth after a rough month that dropped the Wild from division leaders to the playoff bubble on the last day of the regular season. No matter how they got here, they're in. Setoguchi blasted the game-winner on a power-play slap shot midway through the second period that made its way through traffic and behind Semyon Varlamov. "I wasn't trying to put it anywhere," Setoguchi said. "He couldn't see it, and fortunately enough, it went in." But the game was far from in hand during the final six minutes. The Avalanche made a big push and played like a team that had something to play for. The Wild were forced to pack it in and ice pucks as the clock slowly made its way down.
Wild take some time to celebrate after earning first playoff appearance in five years
St. Paul Pioneer Press | Apr 28