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NHL scores 2016: Wild let down by goaltending in hunt for a playoff spot

It's ride or die for Minnesota, and it all comes down to the guys guarding the net.

Jean-Yves Ahern-USA TODAY Sports

While we have all been mesmerized by the tight race happening for the final playoff spot in the East, this is probably a good time to remind you that there is another conference that has a battle of their own going.

Sure, the West is not as intriguing as seeing whether the suddenly confident Flyers can edge out their rivals from Pittsburgh or a team that holds the longest active playoff streak in professional sports. It is, however, definitely worth talking about, especially if the Minnesota Wild can't get their act back together in goal.

Starting goaltender Devan Dubnyk allowed three goals on eight shots to the Devils on Thursday before being pulled after 17 minutes of play. Then his replacement Darcy Kuemper allowed four on 17 shots to close out the game in a 7-4 loss in New Jersey.

Like the Panthers earlier this week, the Wild squandered a game that they could have used. This time, however, it might have bigger consequences than potential matchups in the postseason, if they even make it in at all.

Playoff standings as of 3/18

Playoff standings as of 3/18

The Nashville Predators are in no danger of dropping -- and they're actually closer to jumping into the mix in the Central thanks to the Blackhawks latest woes -- so really, it's a two-team race for that last spot between the Wild and Avalanche.

With the same amount of games played, the Wild really could have used those two points to flip over the Avalanche, who were stagnant after a win over Vancouver on Wednesday.

What might be more troubling is the play of their goaltenders. Dubnyk has been shaky over the last week and a half, and has allowed three goals in three of his last four starts. Even more concerning might be that Minnesota's starter has been pulled twice in that span after the Blues scored three times on 16 shots back on March 6. Kuemper has had similar struggles, allowing three or more goals in five of his last nine games played.

Minnesota cannot have their goaltending go cold on them if they want to catch the Avalanche in the heat of this playoff race. It's one thing to have one netminder be unreliable, but it's another if both are having trouble catching fire. It's probably fair to say the Wild's playoff hopes rest on the shoulders of their ice cold netminders. Let's just hope they can catch fire quick enough.

Scores

Devils 7, Wild 4
Penguins 4, Hurricanes 2
Red Wings 3, Blue Jackets 1
Panthers 4, Maple Leafs 1
Predators 4, Islanders 2
Stars 4, Lightning 3
Coyotes 3, Sharks 1
Kings 4, Rangers 3 (OT)

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3 things we learned

1. James Neal really dislikes teams in orange, blue and white

Just days after taking down the Oilers all by himself with a hat trick, James Neal continued his hatred of teams wearing any form of orange, blue and white with a goal and an assist in the Predators 4-2 win over the Islanders.

Watch out, Philadelphia, you may be missing blue but you've got two of those three colors. Neal could be like those types of bees that get angry at certain colors. You never know ...

2. Jussi Jokinen might be Irish because he was definitely lucky

How else do you explain how these two goals counted, then? Magic?

3. It was Christmas in March in Newark

The Devils wore their Christmas-colored alternates against the Wild, who already look like they stepped out of a holiday store to begin with. It was like Bizarro World or a mirror universe collided with our real one, just a few months too late.

Impact Moment

Jimmy Howard had a great game in goal for the Red Wings, who moved back into playoff position with a 3-1 win over the Blue Jackets. Here's just one of his great saves from the game.

Stat of the Night

Well, this is what happens when the Leafs gut their roster to bare bones. Even so, that's quite something right there.

Post to Post

  • Sidney Crosby was stellar for the Penguins with two goals. Here's his first, where his solo effort made all the difference against the Hurricanes.
  • It wasn't just the Wild having goaltending problems, Keith Kinkaid just barely made up for a bad clearing attempt with a sliding move that saved a goal.
  • Kevin Spacey's love affair with the Panthers continue after the actor revealed a custom jersey to the world ... with a reference to Fetty Wap.