ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — The time on the scoreboard was ticking toward zero. The Minnesota Wild were clinging to a one-goal lead the Los Angeles Kings weren't ready to give up on.
Kings defenseman Slava Voynov signaled to a teammate on the other side he was open, corralled a perfect through-the-slot pass at the far edge of the right circle and wound up for the potential tying shot. Wild goalie Niklas Backstrom lunged to block the puck with the middle of his right leg and smothered it in the crease with help from defenseman Ryan Suter with 11 seconds left.
Almost everyone in the arena exhaled.
"I thought Backy was very good tonight, making key saves at key times," Wild coach Mike Yeo said after a 2-1 win Tuesday tightened his team's grip on seventh place in the Western Conference. "I thought he had a sense of control and kind of an air of confidence about him tonight, which is obviously extremely important. No matter how hard you play, you can't play perfect."
The Wild know that well.
They lost eight of their first 11 games in April, including a couple at home when they dominated most of the night only to lose a critical contest. This time, they were able to match their intensity with the goals that are all that matter.
"You just have to stick with it. We talked before: There's going to be ups and downs," captain Mikko Koivu said.
With 53 points, the Wild are three points behind sixth-place St. Louis and one point ahead of Detroit and two ahead of the Columbus Blue Jackets. The Blues, Wild, Blue Jackets and Red Wings each have two games remaining over the final three days of the regular season.
Minnesota would win a tiebreaker with Detroit because of more non-shootout victories, 21 to 19. Columbus has 17. The Wild only need to beat either Edmonton at home on Friday or win at Colorado on Saturday to secure a place in the playoffs.
They can clinch a spot even before they play again, if the Blue Jackets lose at Dallas on Thursday.
After signing Suter and Zach Parise to those mega contracts last summer, this lockout-shortened season took on a playoffs-or-bust vibe. In January and March, the Wild's first postseason appearance since 2008 looked like a mere formality. In February and April, not so much.