Chicago – It’s Thursday, which means today is do-or-die for the Minnesota Wild as they prepare for Game Five of their Round One matchup with the Western Conference-best Chicago Blackhawks. Minnesota will need to leave it all on the ice to come away with a victory in the United Center. In order for them to win, they’ll need their three “C’s” to succeed.
Cal Clutterbuck – The man who began the postseason scoring for Minnesota will need to keep up the good work. Clutterbuck isn’t afraid to throw his weight around and has just been a punishing presence game in and game out in this series. In four games, the man with the best name in hockey has notched a goal and an assist for two points, a plus-1 rating, two penalty minutes and nine shots. Minnesota plays best when they play an aggressively physical style of play, and that means Clutterbuck is going to have to play like he’s never played before for Minnesota to pull out a victory tonight.
Charlie Coyle – Devin Setoguchi and San Jose’s 2011 1st round pick were the big ticket items in the eyes of Wild fans in the Brent Burns trade. However, Wild GM Chuck Fletcher made it quite clear that the trade didn’t get done without Charlie Coyle thrown in, as well. This season, Wild fans have received a taste of just how good this particular “throw-in” might be. In fact, he could quite possibly be the long-term solution on top line right wing for Minnesota. In four playoff games, the hulking rookie has notched two assists, including a beauty to Parise in the Wild’s Game Three win in Minnesota. He’s also chipped in two penalty minutes, a negative-3 rating and eight shots on goal.
While his plus-minus rating could certainly use improvement, Coyle has shown flashes of brilliance in his first NHL postseason run. The beautiful thing about Coyle is the way he uses his body to separate opposing players from the puck. The guy also can’t be knocked off the puck to save an opposing defenseman’s life. His natural scoring instincts have yet to kick into full gear in this series but, when they do, look out. Minnesota’s large 6’2” 200+ pound winger plays a game very reminiscent of Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews with a touch of former 50-goal scorer Dany Heatley.
Matt Cullen – Ah, Cully—the seasoned vet that has experienced the very pinnacle of professional hockey. At 36, Cullen finds himself not only as Minnesota’s current ranking old-timer, but also the team’s leading playoff scorer this postseason. In four games, Cullen has three assists, a plus-1 rating, five shots and a faceoff win percentage of 60.3%. Playing on a line with young goal scorer Devin Setoguchi and rookie speedster Jason Zucker, Cullen’s line has been too much for Chicago’s strong defense to handle. Nearly every shift by this Minnesota Wild second line has resulted in extended periods of offensive zone domination, and/or severe migraines for the likes of Brent Seabrook, Duncan Keith, Johnny Oduya and former Wild 1st rounder Nick Leddy. This line is going to need to continue their success against the Blackhawks if the Wild are going to stand any chance of beating Chicago tonight.
Bottom-line, it’s been a very fun series to watch. There’s no shame in losing to the best team in the NHL, and nearly every game has been decided by missed opportunities. However, this has been very valuable, much-needed experience for the rookies and youngsters and it will only make them hungry for more. No matter how this series turns out, you can bet it’ll be a fight to the end. Why? Because the game’s in our blood and our blood’s in the game—it’s as simple as that.