Winner take all. Tonight’s the night the Minnesota Wild put it all on the line against the Colorado Avalanche at the Pepsi Center in Denver. Puck drop is 8:30 pm Central Time. The whole season comes down to one game, 60 minutes (maybe more) of hard fought NHL hockey action, to see who has the opportunity to take on the defending Stanley Cup Champion Chicago Blackhawks in the next round. These two teams have battled through six exciting games with the home team eventually winning each game. The Wild must buck that trend in Denver tonight. Minnesota has come close, very close, in two of the three games at the Pepsi Center. Game one was a heart breaker of an overtime loss 5-4 and game five featured some blown calls in a game the Avalanche once again won in OT. The Minnesota Wild have been so close twice and they are due to break on through to the winning side tonight in Denver. Picture it, the cheers of the Wild fans in attendance and the shocked, stunned and tear stained faces of the Avalanche faithful as the Wild celebrate a game 7 victory on Avalanche home ice. Victory will be sweet indeed, but one game, one team, stand between the Minnesota Wild and that goal.
The Wild are going with pretty much the same lineup as last game with one exception. Stephane Veilleux is going to be in action tonight in place of Justin Fontaine. Minnesota Wild Head Coach Mike Yeo is looking for more of a veteran presence in the lineup along with the energy, checking ability, and penalty kill expertise that Veilleux possesses. Those would be the only reasons for Veilleux to be in over Fontaine. Looking at a couple of advanced stat number for this season Fontaine was 8th on the Wild in terms of points per 60 minutes while Veilleux was 16th. Fontaine also earned those points while starting only 41.5% of his shifts in the offensive zone in 5 on 5 situations. Usually he was on a checking line with Matt Cooke and Kyle Brodziak going up against opponents top 2 forward lines. Veilleux has had easier duty as he was mainly used in situations against other teams 4th lines starting 43.2% of his shifts in the O-zone. I’d like to thank GPW writer Ger Devine for his help on those stats.
The top line of Zach Parise, Mikko Koivu and Charlie Coyle have totaled 19 points in six games including six goals and 13 assists. Parise alone has three goals and 7 assists to lead all NHL players in the Stanley Cup Playoffs to date. The second line of Jason Pominville, Mikael Granlund and Matt Moulson has contributed four goals and six assists so far in the series. Basically half the production of the top line. Just one of those goals, but 4 of the assists, are Pominville’s. If there’s any night for this line to break out it’s tonight. The forward lines for the Minnesota Wild tonight are, at least to start the game, as follows:
The defensive pairing for tonight’s game 7 battle will be the same. The Minnesota defense has been playing fairly strongly all series and contributed four goals and six assists to the offense. Tonight once again they will have to slow down Nathan MacKinnon who has been spectacular on home ice and below average off it. The Avalanche also now have the weapon of Matt Duchene back in their lineup as well. The Minnesota defense is going to have to come up with their biggest game of the series to get the win tonight. The pairs for tonight are: