The Minnesota Wild face off with the Colorado Avalanche in game 4 of their Stanley Cup Playoff Divisional Series tonight. Puck drop is a late one coming at 8:30 pm Central Time at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul. You can catch all the action on Fox Sports North (FSN) in Minnesota and on CNBC nationally. The Wild have the opportunity to tie the series at two games apiece tonight or fall two back of the Avalanche with the series returning to Denver for Game 5 on Saturday. The Wild take the ice tonight minus Matt Cooke who’s serving a 7 game suspension for kneeing Avalanche defenseman Tyson Barrie. Filling in for Cooke will be Nino Niederreiter on the third line while Kyle Brodziak will be back in the lineup centering the fourth line. Ryan Wilson will be Barrie’s replacement on defense for Colorado. The Avalanche have also placed rookie Joey Hishon into the lineup. The 2010 first round draft pick will be making his NHL debut this evening. No pressure there kid!
While Minnesota Wild Head Coach Mike Yeo has juggled the third and fourth lines in Cooke’s absence but the top two lines will remain unchanged. The third line was charged with stopping the Avalanche’s top line of Gabriel Landeskog, Paul Stastny, and Nathan MacKinnon. Now Niederreiter will step into that role along with Erick Haula and Justin Fontaine. Brodziak is back in the action after watching game three as a healthy scratch and will be skating with Cody McCormick and Dany Heatley. Right there is a line that needs to play some opportunistic, defensive hockey. There is a definite lack of speed among that trio so they need to be sure to play positionally sound and jump all over any mistakes the Avalanche make and put them in the Colorado net. The Top lines will remain the same but the production from them needs to increase. So far in three games those two lines have a total of 3 goals and 8 assists. Not a lot of production out of your top six forwards over three full games. The Minnesota Wild need the big guns to step up tonight and take over the scoring. Minnesota’s top 4 goal scorers in the regular season, Jason Pominville, Zach Parise, Nino Niederreiter and Justin Fontaine have yet to score a goal in this playoff series. The forward lines for tonight, at least to start the game, are:
Defensively the Minnesota Wild will go with the same D-pairs as last game. The defense did an outstanding job limiting the Avalanche to 22 shots on goal and keeping most of those to shots from the perimeter. Reuniting Jonas Brodin and Ryan Suter seemed to work well as did the second pairing of Jared Spurgeon and Marco Scandella. So far in this series defenseman have contributed two goals and three assists over the three games. Not bad but not great production either. What the Wild D will have to continue to do is shut down the Avs top scoring lines or at least limit their chances. One other area a couple of defensemen, namely Nate Prosser and Clayton Stoner, are going to have to take over is agitating and physical intimidation. With Cooke out of the line up it’s time for Prosser to become the primary agitator on the Wild. He’s been doing a good job in that area so far but now the job of #1 pest is his. Time to get nasty Nate! The probability exists for someone on the Avs to take a run at one of the Minnesota Wild’s skill players this evening. Stoner has to be one of the first guys to jump in if that happens, along with McCormick. The pairings for tonight on defense are:
The Choice in net for the Minnesota Wild tonight is obvious, Darcy Kuemper. The rookie net minder posted a 22 save shut out in game three turning aside all the Avalanche could throw at him. So far in 2 games this series Kuemper is 36 for 36 on saves. he has a goals against of 0.00 and a save % of 1.000 to go with a 1-0 record. He will once again face off against Semyon Varlamov who has a 2-1 record with a 2.21 goals against average and a .937 % over three games. Last game it came down to which goaltender made the first mistake, and that took over 65 minutes of play to happen. Tonight I doubt it will take that long but Kuemper can definitely get the job done in net for the Minnesota Wild.
This is a pivotal game in this best of 7 series for the Wild and Avalanche. The MinnesotaWild have the chance to send the series back to the Pepsi Center even at two games each and the Avalanche back on their heels. I’ll be back after tonight’s action with a recap and analysis of all the action. Until then this is Scott Drain calling out loud and clear in St. Paul, “LET’S GO WILD – BEAT THE AVALANCHE – LET’S GO WILD!!”