The gap between the Minnesota Wild and a spot in the Stanley Cup playoffs isn't insurmountable. The margin for error, however, has nearly disappeared.
As the Wild (35-32-9) ready to host the Nashville Predators Monday night, they are coming off a disappointing 5-1 defeat at the hands of the Carolina Hurricanes on Saturday that dropped them out of a wild card spot. With six games remaining in the season - all but one against teams outside of a playoff position heading into Sunday's action, and the other being the Arizona Coyotes - the Wild are sputtering with just two wins in eight games (2-5-1).
"At this stage I firmly believe we have to win four out of six to have a shot at this," Wild coach Bruce Boudreau said after his team's loss in Carolina. "Again, just take it one game at a time and hopefully with the day of rest (Sunday), and then it's not easy facing Nashville, but if we come up with something solid hopefully that will lead us through to the next week."
The loss in Carolina came one night after a crucial 2-1 victory over the defending Stanley Cup champion Washington Capitals, but they weren't able to build off it.
"We know where we're at. Every game is huge and are desperate points," forward Eric Staal said. "Coming off a big game (Saturday) night, we were hoping for a great weekend and a big result, but that's a team (Carolina) that's desperate as well. They're playing really well. They've played well for a long time since December."
Nashville (42-28-6) is on the verge of clinching a playoff spot, but the Predators are not feeling high these days, either. They were trounced 5-0 by the Winnipeg Jets Saturday night, a defeat that leaves them four points behind Winnipeg for top spot in the Central Division and only two points ahead of the St. Louis Blues - who also have a game in hand and lead in the first tiebreaker.
Nashville has dropped two straight games - falling via shootout to Pittsburgh on Thursday - and failing to rebound with a better effort against the Jets was summed up repeatedly with the word "disappointing".
"Biggest game of the year up to this point," captain Roman Josi said. "They were just better than us. Disappointing.
"They were just better than us the whole game," Josi added. "It's really disappointing that we played like that for such a big game. It was a big game for both teams, and we just didn't play well enough."
"The first period we played really well," head coach Peter Laviolette said. "We had the edge just with what we were trying to do. I thought we were sharp and on point, and then the next 40 turned and we weren't good at all."
On top of it all, the Wild are on pins and needles regarding the status of Zach Parise going forward. Parise, who leads the team in goals (26) and points (59), missed the Carolina game. He suffered a lower-body injury against the Capitals on Friday when hit by Tom Wilson. He remained in the game and set up the decisive goal in the victory, but was unable to play on Saturday.