The Magic Eight Ball: Making a Case for the Minnesota Wild, the 8th Seed and the Chicago Blackhawks

Apr 9, 2013; St. Paul, MN, USA; Minnesota Wild forward Charlie Coyle (63) defends Chicago Blackhawks forward Jonathan Toews (19) during the third period at the Xcel Energy Center. The Blackhawks defeated the Wild 1-0. Mandatory Credit: Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports

If you’ve been reading Gone Puck Wild regularly this season, you already know my affinity for exciting matchups between the Minnesota Wild and the Chicago Blackhawks. Our good Mr. Devine’s article for today fanned that spark into flame, giving me the perfect article idea regarding both the Wild and Hawks. So, without further ado, here’s why Minnesota fans should seek a matchup with Chicago.

History and Realignment

Whether it’s been the Wild or the North Stars, Minnesota has a long history with the Chicago Blackhawks. It’s that history that may make Chicago Minnesota’s greatest rival with the new realignment put in place for next season. Minnesota will also play against St. Louis, Winnipeg, Colorado, Nashville and the old Minnesota North Stars in Dallas. A division that makes geographical sense will be perfect, and the old “Norris” looks to be quite promising for Minnesota. A first round series featuring both Minnesota and Chicago would be the perfect way to transition into next year’s realignment.

Chicago finally arrived in the modern era when they won the Stanley Cup in 2010, but many of their key players had yet to fully mature. Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane and Nick Leddy aren’t quite in their prime yet, and Corey Crawford is just now entering his goaltending prime. Minnesota, on the other hand, is a few year behind. While there are key veterans in Mikko Koivu, Zach Parise, Ryan Suter, Jason Pominville, Devin Setoguchi, Pierre-Marc Bouchard and Matt Cullen, there are potential super stars in the rookie crop that won’t reach their prime for years yet.

Charlie Coyle plays a game very similar to Blackhawk captain Toews, using his size in dominating fashion, creating plays on both sides of the puck and wielding a goal scorer’s touch.

Charlie Coyle’s Monster Shift

Mikael Granlund, who is almost guaranteed to rebound next year after this season’s baptism by fire, plays a lot like 2007 first overall pick Patrick Kane. Granlund will never be the goal scorer Kane is, but his hockey I.Q. and stick-handling is off the charts and unparalleled in Minnesota’s prospect pool. In a few more years, he’ll be a perennial NHL All-Star.

Mikael Granlund’s Unbelievable Assist on Coyle’s Goal

Jason Zucker, on the other hand, skates with electricity that hasn’t been felt in Minnesota’s Xcel Energy Center since Marian Gaborik left. Essentially a clone of Parise in the way he plays, Zucker’s goal scoring touch and unmatched speed immediately captures fans’ attention every time he hops the boards.

Jason Zucker’s First Career NHL Goal

Then there’s defenseman Jonas Brodin—undoubtedly the love child of legendary NHL Detroit Red Wings defenseman, and fellow Swede, Nicklas Lidstrom. Already Ryan Suter’s defensive partner on Minnesota’s top pairing, Brodin is a dark horse Calder Trophy candidate as the NHL’s Rookie of the Year, and will likely be a perennial Norris Trophy contender as the NHL’s best defenseman for many years to come.

Jonas Brodin Picks a Corner for his First Career NHL Goal

Names like Mathew Dumba, Darcy Kuemper, Brett Bulmer, Zack Phillips, Mario Lucia and Erik Haula in the prospect pool only serve to prove just how deep and talented this team could be in the not too distant future. The Wild will be more than capable of keeping up with the Blackhawks for a long, long time and a taste of the playoffs will only benefit Minnesota’s younsters.

Goaltending

Chicago’s tandem of Corey Crawford and Ray Emery has been outstanding this season. However, I wouldn’t go as far as saying the Blackhawks have been a product of their goaltending. They may be good—great, even—but neither one can compare to Martin Brodeur, Henrik Lundqvist, Jonathan Quick or even Tim Thomas. With an improved power play unit, Minnesota may finally be able to solve either one.

On the other end of the ice, Minnesota has starter Niklas Backstrom and a combo of rookie netminder Darcy Kuemper and veteran backup Josh Harding. With the uncertainty surrounding Josh Harding, Backstrom has been nothing short of a rock in net this season. Does that make him any better than Crawford or Emery? No, but his stellar play has certainly been one of the main reasons for Minnesota’s success this season.

Finally, First Blood

Minnesota was the first team in the NHL to mar Chicago’s perfect record this season. Sure, Chicago has beaten them twice since, but Minnesota was the first team to prove than Chicago wasn’t unbeatable and—unless the Blackhawks and Anaheim Ducks survive until the conference finals—Minnesota may stand the best chance out of any other team in the West to come out on top of a round one series against the best team in the league.

In their most recent matchup, the deciding goal—the only goal—came off a defensive blunder in Minnesota’s defensive end that led to a goal by Marian Hossa. That was it. Minnesota is a team that, when they put their minds to it, can skate a full 60 minutes against Chicago. A first round playoff clash would not only be great viewing, it would also rejuvenate the rivalry between the two teams and fan bases. It could also help cement Minnesota’s claim to a Winter Classic at Target Field for the 2015 season. But, the best part—a series win by the Wild over the Hawks would not only knock off the best team in the NHL regular season, but also make Minnesota a legitimate Cup contender for the remainder of the playoffs and the seasons to follow.

Topics: Charlie Coyle, Corey Crawford, Jonas Brodin, Jonathan Toews, Niklas Backstrom, Patrick Kane, Playoff Push, Zach Parise

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