The Minnesota Wild will be in Denver to face the Colorado Avalanche tonight for the first game of the Stanley Cup Playoffs Divisional Series. The Avalanche put together an impressive run to the Central Division title beating out the St. Louis Blues and the Chicago Blackhawks. The Wild finished the season strong with only a single regulation loss in the month of April that helped to clinch the #1 Wild Card spot in the Western Conference. Puck drop tonight is 8:30 pm Central Time and the game will be broadcast in Minnesota on Fox Sports North (FSN), in Wisconsin on Fox Sports WI (FSW), and nationally on CNBC. Check your local listings for channel numbers.
This is a huge opportunity for the Wild to begin to exorcise the demons of not making it out of the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs since 2003. Yes, those days of Richard Park’s OT goal in game 6 vs the Avalanche and Andrew Brunette‘s game winner in game 7 that ended the series AND Patrick Roy‘s NHL career. Facts that I’m sure are not lost on the current crop of Colorado Avalanche players. It sure would be sweet to beat Colorado again, this time with Roy as their head coach.
The critical mistake the Minnesota Wild can’t afford to make tonight, or at any point in this series, is deviating from the style of play that got them into the Stanley Cup Playoffs 2014 edition. No run and gun. No end to end rushes traded back and forth. No fire wagon hockey. The Wild have to be a defense oriented squad that can take advantage of Avalanche mistakes. Minnesota needs to get the puck in deep, behind the Colorado defense, work it around and get the opposition out of position. The Minnesota Wild are going to need some greasy, dirty goals to beat Semyon Varlamov. Even for the Wild’s top scorers it will be difficult to beat Varlamov one on one. If he gets a good look and position on the shot it’s not going in the net. Deflections, rebounds, a fortunate bounce or three is what the Minnesota Wild need to do to score against the Avalanche.
Starting in goal tonight will by Ilya Bryzgalov for the Minnesota Wild. General Manager Chuck Fletcher’s rental and back up to Darcy Kuemper has become the #1 Wild net minder. He posted a record of 7-1-3 in his 11 decisions for Minnesota since joining the team at the March 5th trade deadline. He does have some good Stanley Cup Playoff experience with 38 games played over 5 seasons with the Ducks, Coyotes, and Flyers. He has a save percentage of .908 and a goals against average of 2.81 in 2,221 minutes of play. Brygalov has become a leader on the Minnesota squad and has a chance now to really step up under huge pressure and continue his excellent record since becoming a resident of the State of Hockey.
Mikael Granlund is back in the lineup tonight and will be centering the 2nd line between Pominville and Moulson. His return has had a trickle down effect with Jake Dowell being reassigned to Iowa. The scratches tonight are Dany Heatley, Jonathon Blum, and the suspended Mike Rupp. Defenseman Keith Ballard is also still out with an injury but could see action depending on how long and deep a run the Minnesota Wild make in the 2014 Stanley Cup Playoffs. One thing is for sure, the Wild cannot rely on their top two lines to do all the scoring. They must have goals from the third and fourth lines to beat the Avalanche tonight eventually win the series. The forward lines for the Wild tonight are:
The defensive pairings for Minnesota are basically the same as the last several games of the regular season. The top two pairings will see significant time on the power play and penalty kill. The third pair of Stoner and Prosser is one of the snarliest, chirping-est, toughest pairs in the NHL. Stoner is capable of playing the enforcer role along with Cody McCormick, but I’d rather see a 4th line forward in the penalty box for 5 minutes after a fight than a defenseman who is definitely more valuable on the ice. The Wild defense is going to have its hands full with the Avs’ speedy talented forwards. They include probable rookie of the year Nathan MacKinnon, who has 63 points (24g, 39a), Gabriel Landeskog and Ryan O’Reilly. Slowing those three down will be a big priority for the Wild. The defensive pairings for tonight are:
We shall see tonight if the Minnesota Wild can stick to their game plan and avoid being drawn into a track meet with the Colorado Avalanche. Top notch goaltending is a must with most games between the two teams decided by one goal this regular season. The Wild were 1-3-1 against the Avs this season, but that was then–this is the Stanley Cup Playoffs. The Wild sent them home in the first round once, and sure as heck have the tools and personnel to do it again in 2014. I’ll be back after the game with a recap and some analysis. Until then, this is Scott Drain calling out from the tops of the Rocky Mountains, “LET’S GO WILD, BEAT THE AVALANCHE, LET’S GO WILD!!!”