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X-factor: Wild already have playoff spot clinched but opportunity to get home ice remains

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Minnesota Wild defenseman Jonas Brodin (25) is congratulated by teammates Minnesota Wild left wing Jordan Greenway (18), Minnesota Wild left wing Marcus Foligno (17), Minnesota Wild center Joel Eriksson Ek (14), and Minnesota Wild defenseman Matt Dumba (24) after scoring the winning goal against the Vegas Golden Knights in the third period during an NHL hockey game, Monday, May 3, 2021, in St. Paul, Minn. (AP Photo/Andy Clayton-King)

Dean Evason made it clear after the Wild’s 6-5 come-from-behind victory over the Vegas Golden Knights on Monday night that he has no interest in discussing where his team is in the West Division standings. Privately, however, the Wild coach has to be very aware of where things stand.

While Minnesota wrapped up a playoff spot on April 24 in San Jose, the Wild continue to jockey for position in this year’s pandemic-altered playoff format. The playoff seedings are being done by division, not by conference, and the top four teams will qualify. The Wild are in third place with 70 points in 51 games, two points behind second-place Colorado (72 points in 50 games) and four points behind first-place Vegas (74 points in 51 games).

Minnesota is likely to be an underdog against either the Golden Knights or Avalanche — despite the fact the Wild have won five in a row against Vegas and will try to extend that streak in the regular-season finale between the teams on Wednesday in St. Paul — but its path to getting past either will increase if the Wild can get home-ice advantage in the opening round.

That would give the Wild last change for the first two games of the series, not to mention a potential Game 7, enabling Evason to get the matchups he wants. Most importantly, it would give the Wild the advantage of playing in a building where they are 19-5-1 this season and rallied from two goals down in the third period of the past two games to beat St. Louis in overtime and Vegas late in regulation. The latter win came when Kirill Kaprizov and Jonas Brodin scored 26 seconds part at 18:28 and 18:54, respectively, causing the crowd of 3,000 (the amount of fans allowed in Xcel Energy Center) to do their best to sound like 18,000.

The Wild are now 17-2-1 in their past 20 at home and would welcome the opportunity to avoid playing four games in a first-round series either in Colorado’s Ball Arena or Vegas’ T-Mobile Arena. The Golden Knights are 19-4-2 in their home building and the Avs are 20-4-2. The Wild were 2-2 at home against the Avalanche this season and 1-3 on the road. They are 3-0 at home against Vegas and 2-1-1 at T-Mobile.

While the Wild could make a run at first place in the West, that actually might set up a meeting with the team they want to see the least. The St. Louis Blues are five points clear of Arizona in the division but 15 points behind the Wild. The first-place finisher is almost certain to get the Blues, but despite an up-and-down season the 2019 Stanley Cup champions are built for the playoffs. The Blues might be the worst matchup for Minnesota and their top goalie, Jordan Binnington, has proven he can carry a team on a Stanley Cup run.

The Blues took two of three from the Wild at Xcel Energy Center last week, splitting in overtime in the last two games. The Wild are 2-1-1 at home against the Blues this season and 0-2 on the road, including a 9-1 defeat. The teams will wrap-up the regular season next week with two games in St. Louis. Before that, the Wild will follow Wednesday’s game against Vegas with home games Friday and Saturday against the last-place Anaheim Ducks (39 points).

In other words, there remain plenty of opportunities to pick up points. Evason, however, doesn’t want to discuss it — at least not publicly. “The season will end, and we’ll see where we sit,” he said.