Yesterday, I wrote an article giving reasons as to why the Chicago Blackhawks could beat Minnesota and extend their impressive unbeaten streak. You can read more on that here. However, today, my article is about why Minnesota can beat Chicago.
The primary reason why Minnesota can beat the Blackhawks tonight is that they already did so in a 3-2 shootout win on January 30th, while 12 other Western Conference teams have tried and failed. Minnesota is one of three teams to steal the full two points from the Hawks this season—the other two being Vancouver and Anaheim. Not only did they manage to do that, but they were the very first to show Chicago, and the entire NHL, that the mighty Blackhawks could be defeated. There is no better opportunity than tonight for the Minnesota Wild to not only be the first team to beat the Hawks in overtime/shootout, but in regulation as well. Every game between Chicago and Minnesota during the past few seasons has been fun to watch. There have been a lot of goals scored, a lot of great saves, plenty of battles and plenty of shootouts between the two teams.
Speaking of goals scored, Minnesota’s goal scorers have quickly begun to pick up the pace during the past few games—notching two of their season’s four 4-goal games within the past three they’ve played. Head Coach Mike Yeo seems to have solidified his forward lines here recently with:
It’s impressive the way this lineup call roll four great lines, and Yeo has been getting scoring production from the top three in particular. The top line combined for six points in last night’s game, including goals from Mikko Koivu and big rookie winger Charlie Coyle. The second line has also been on a roll recently, including an impressive 2-goal, 1-assist night from Matt Cullen in a 3-1 win against the Oilers in Edmonton on February 21st. Devin Setoguchi also had a goal in the win, while rookie speedster Jason Zucker has three goals in the past seven games since being called up from the Houston Aeros. Then there is the intriguing third line of lethal goal scorer Dany Heatley, paired with two brilliant playmakers in Pierre-Marc Bouchard and Finnish phenom Mikael Granlund. All three scoring lines have played extremely well, and will need to keep it up as they take to the Blackhawks’ home ice tomorrow night.
Defensively, it will be difficult for Chicago to beat Minnesota. The top pairing of Ryan Suter and Swedish sensation Jonas Brodin will certainly be able to handle whatever Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews, Marian Hossa and Patrick Sharp throw at them. There is no need for Minnesota fans to worry about that top pairing…ever. Boneheaded moves by Clayton Stoner and Justin Falk, on the other hand, can be worrisome. Both are big, physical blue liners who can get a little too aggressive and cause penalties at the worst times. They need to play a smart, simple, shutdown style of game and be conservative with and without the puck. However, both Tom Gilbert and Jared Spurgeon bring a good, safe style of play to the defense, as well, and can chip in on the offense while logging big minutes on the blue line. If Mike Yeo doesn’t feel comfortable with either Stoner or Falk, don’t be surprised to see Elk River, Minnesota native Nate Prosser get back in the lineup. He’s a big, mobile shutdown defensive defenseman that has played exceptionally well this season in the limited time he’s seen, has been on the ice for only one goal against and is a plus-2 on the season.
In goal, Minnesota has a very solid, dependable netminder in Niklas Backstrom. Having just been named the NHL’s “Third Star of the Week”, Backstrom has been a workhorse in net for the Wild this season, posting a 9-5-2 record with a 2.21 goals against average and .917 save percentage. The relatively quiet Finn lets his game speak for itself and comes into tonight’s game with a three game win streak. Backstrom has yet to allow a Chicago goal this season, and played flawlessly while stopping 28 of 28 shots in relief of Josh Harding in Minnesota’s 3-2 shootout victory over the Hawks on January 30th.
While Backstrom will likely be starting in net tonight for Minnesota, if he doesn’t, there’s a 6’5” 207-pound giant more than capable to man the net against the Hawks. Darcy Kuemper is quickly proving he belongs in the NHL. Though his record is just 1-2-0, his 2.37 goals against average and .922 save percentage are quite impressive, considering he’s defeated the Red Wings, and taken both the Vancouver Canucks and Anaheim Ducks the distance this season. In both losses, a little goal scoring support from his teammates would most certainly have changed the outcome.
Special teams will be a major factor in tonight’s game and, while Minnesota’s 22nd ranked power play probably won’t make much of an impact, their 5th ranked penalty kill might. However, the best penalty kill of all is to not take any penalties. That’s what Mike Yeo needs to preach. They can’t cheat the system. Play smart; be efficient with and without the puck; if you can make a play, make a play. Be aggressive, play physical, but not to the point where you’re constantly taking penalties—Minnesota needs to avoid the sin bin at all costs. Maintaining control of the puck is also crucial; because the more time you have with the puck, the easier it is to control the game—Minnesota needs to control this game. Most importantly—shoot the puck—Crawford and Emery are great goaltenders, but they’re not too good to allow one or two to get past them if pressured. The Wild offense needs to shell Chicago’s starter exactly like they did Dubnyk in Sunday night’s win against Edmonton. If they can do that, tonight will be a very winnable game for this Minnesota Wild team.
Will the Minnesota Wild slay the dragon tonight? They have as good a shot as any other team in the NHL and, considering they’ve already come away with two points against Chicago earlier this season, it’s certainly possible. No matter what the score, this is going to be an amazing game to watch if you’re a fan of hockey in general. One thing is for sure, this could definitely be the start of a beautiful rivalry to continue once realignment officially happens.