Apr 24, 2014; Saint Paul, MN, USA; Colorado Avalanche defenseman Nick Holden (2) checks Minnesota Wild center Mikael Granlund (64) in the third period in game four of the first round of the 2014 Stanley Cup Playoffs at Xcel Energy Center. Mandatory Credit: Marilyn Indahl-USA TODAY Sports

Minnesota Wild Prepares For a Battle in Game Five

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What a great game that was last night, huh?

Yes, the sky is bluer, the grass greener and all the worries seem to melt away knowing, as long as there’s still playoff puck in the State of Hockey, life is just grand. Okay, so maybe it’ll take a little more time for some of us to come back to Earth.

The Minnesota Wild are headed for at least a Game Six for the first time since the 2007-08 playoffs, when they were coincidentally eliminated four games to two by their current adversaries–the Colorado Avalanche. Minnesota is flying high having won two straight games against the reeling Avalanche, who are in need of some serious soul searching as the series once again returns to the Mile High City and the relative safety of the Pepsi Center. Of course, if any road arena could be considered the Wild’s second home, it’s the “Can”.

With the series all knotted up four games in, a best of seven series now becomes best of three, with two games to be played yet in Denver. Neither home team has given up a loss in this series, though a late third period goal by Paul Stastny was needed to force overtime in Game One. Stastny went on to score the game winner to put the Avs up 1-0 in the series. Minnesota has to stay true to its postseason form. Play hard, play confidently, but not cocky, be smart with the puck and keep putting pressure on Colorado’s talented skaters and Vezina-finalist goalie. Essentially, if the Wild plays the way it did the past two games, there’s no reason why this team can’t return to St. Paul Monday night to wrap up the series on home ice.

Some interesting notes:

The Wild has outshot the Avalanche 78-34 the past two games, including allowing just 12 shots on goal last night.

Minnesota’s penalty kill is an impressive 14-for-15 through four games. That’s a 93.3 percent efficiency, which is currently a league-best for the 2014 postseason. The only power play goal against came on a 6-on-4 late in Game One with Colorado netminder Semyon Varlamov pulled for an extra attacker. A huge reason why the Wild penalty kill has been so brilliant is the play of sophomore center Mikael Granlund, who blocked three Erik Johnson shots alone on a 6-on-4 late in last night’s 2-1 home victory over the Avalanche. This came as the icing on a cake that already included three drawn penalties, an assist and a dominating 67 percent success rate in the face-off circle for the Wild young gun. Granny has never been more fun to watch than he was last night.

Also, Minnesota rookie netminder Darcy Kuemper currently leads all playoff goaltenders with a 0.40 goals against average and a .979 save percentage. Granted, he’s played three games and started just two. He’ll have another opportunity to prove his worth tomorrow night in Denver.

Finally, Wild goaltender “Josh Bryzguemper” was not among the three finalists for the Vezina trophy as the NHL’s best goaltender of the regular season. It’s a shame, I was just about to get the jersey. All kidding aside, Minnesota goalies Josh Harding, Ilya Bryzgalov and Kuemper compiled a 41-16-15 record, a 2.10 goals against average, a .922 save percentage and eight shutouts as all played key roles in net at different points during the season. Harding, who hasn’t played since December 31st, still finished the season first in goals against average (1.65) and save percentage (.933). Had he stayed healthy, there’s a good chance he would’ve ousted one of Ben Bishop or Varlamov or even Tuukka Rask as a Vezina finalist.

The past two games have been nothing but exhilarating and nerve-wracking for Wild fans, but it all amounts to nothing if Minnesota can’t win on the road. This team can’t give up the momentum it currently has nor give any quarter to a still very dangerous Colorado team. With Patrick Roy at the helm, the Avalanche won’t quit until the final whistle blows on the series-clinching game. If Minnesota has anything to say, that’ll be Monday night in St. Paul after a much needed road victory tomorrow.

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Tags: 2014 Stanley Cup Playoffs Darcy Kuemper Mikael Granlund

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