ST. PAUL (AP) -- In the sports world it's best to avoid gushing about much of anything. Maintaining a sense of cynicism is better.
Which is tough to do with the Minnesota Wild, since they worked the skates off a lot of teams with bigger payrolls and more talent and are now, improbably enough, in the playoffs.
The Wild and coach Jacques Lemaire have shown that their defensive-oriented system and maximization of the talents of everyone on the roster, along with several seasons' worth of shrewd personnel moves, can work wonders.
Lowest payroll in the league, third year of existence ... sixth-best team in the gator-tail-tough Western Conference.
Yes, the Wild have clearly earned an "A" on this test, but now comes the extra credit:
How well can this work in the playoffs?
They're up against the appropriately nicknamed Avalanche, who've won 25 of their last 37 games and are playing as well as anyone in the postseason.
And you thought the regular season was difficult. If that was a cram-all-semester exam in macroeconomic theory, then this first-round series is a pop quiz on the first day in quantum mechanics class.
For anyone in the West not named Dallas or Detroit, it would seem a near-impossible feat to beat Colorado right now in a best-of-seven series.
Let's eliminate that possibility immediately before we start to believe it could actually happen. But how about taking a game or two, maybe even making the two-time Stanley Cup winners sweat out a do-or-die Game 7 in Denver.
The Wild would probably be the team to do it.
The point is made, and the thought that the Wild -- if they clog the neutral zone consistently and force enough turnovers to exploit their sure-to-be limited scoring chances -- could stick with Colorado for two weeks crosses your mind.
"That's why our team's been successful this year," defenseman Willie Mitchell said. "We've played hard together, and we've played together as a team. You have to understand that when you become a part of this team, individually is not as important as the success of the team.
"That's how we've gotten to where we are."
It's almost as if these guys have been brainwashed by Lemaire.
"We've listened to what he's had to say, and we've had success," Mitchell said. "You buy into the team philosophy because it works. Guys fill in their roles and that's one of the reasons we've been successful."
By making the playoffs this year, the Wild are years ahead of their plan. Yet that doesn't mean a happy-to-be-here attitude will fly, even though -- once the ice shavings settle on this series -- the organization will have been very, very happy to have been here.
"Guys might play 10 years without making it into the playoffs," said forward Andrew Brunette. "We're lucky to get in. You realize it's so hard to get in, you might not get in the next couple years. We don't want to be that kind of team."
Still trying to find the core that will carry them through the second part of this decade with star forward Marian Gaborik, the Wild may indeed fall off a bit next season when a few key veterans aren't brought back in the name of long-term development.
But it's not going to be because of a decrease in effort.
This year was a test to see if a low-budget team lacking high-profile scoring punch could compete for the playoffs, and the Wild certainly passed. Anything else they can do in April is simply a bonus.
The Avalanche will win this in five, everyone seems to think.
Let's make that six, because of a Wild club that promises -- if it's going to die -- to die trying.
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