The Minnesota Wild concluded a stellar second half of March with a victory over the Los Angeles Kings, and it seemed inevitable they would be heading to their first postseason in five years.
Then came struggles in April and a home losing streak that could become the worst in franchise history Tuesday night, leaving Minnesota's playoff fate in limbo as it meets a Kings team fighting for home-ice advantage in the first round.
The Wild ended last month by winning eight of nine after a 4-3 shootout victory over Los Angeles on March 30 and were tied with Vancouver atop the Northwest Division.
They have gone just 3-7-1 this month, including a 3-0 defeat at Los Angeles on April 4, and are tied with Columbus for seventh in the Western Conference - not far ahead of Detroit and Dallas.
Minnesota (24-18-3), which hasn't qualified for the playoffs since 2007-08, fell 5-1 to Calgary on Sunday for its fifth straight home loss. The team hasn't dropped six consecutive home games since joining the NHL in 2000-01.
"Why should it not be hard for us? This is the first year that we're trying to get (to the playoffs) in five years," coach Mike Yeo said. "Its supposed to be hard for us. That's part of the battle."
Zach Parise scored his team-best 17th goal Sunday for the Wild, who have scored only 19 this month while being held to two goals or fewer eight times. They conclude the regular season by facing Edmonton on Friday and West-worst Colorado on Saturday.
"We put ourselves in a tough spot, but we're still in the driver's seat," center Kyle Brodziak said. "It makes it more difficult now, but we've just got to dig deeper."
Los Angeles (26-14-5) already has wrapped up a postseason spot and is 4-0-1 in its last five. Captain Dustin Brown had two goals and Jeff Carter had two assists before scoring in overtime of a 4-3 win over Dallas on Sunday.
The Kings are in fourth place, two points ahead of San Jose for home-ice advantage in the first round of the playoffs. They end the season at home versus the Sharks on Saturday after visiting Detroit on Wednesday.
"I just want us to take care of our own business, and who we play is who we play," coach Darryl Sutter said. "We've talked about (home ice), but that's the end result."
Mike Richards, who had a goal and an assist Sunday, said the most important thing is how well the Kings are playing leading up to the playoffs.
"Every time you go into a playoff run where you're kind of stumbling a little bit, you don't do as well as maybe as if you're going in there on a high note," Richards told the team's official website. "We know what we're capable of when we play well, and we've been playing well lately."
Jonathan Quick has started throughout Los Angeles' current five-game point streak while posting a 1.72 GAA. He's 7-3-2 with a 2.62 GAA in 12 career starts versus the Wild after making 25 saves in the shootout loss last month.
Minnesota could counter with Niklas Backstrom, who was pulled after allowing goals on the first two shots he faced against the Kings on April 4. He has a 3.75 GAA while going 2-2-0 in his last four starts.
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