The Minnesota Wild’s quest for the Stanley Cup continues as they face the Chicago Blackhawks in the Stanley Cup Playoffs Western Conference Semi-Final. The team is done celebrating their game 7 triumph over the Colorado Avalanche in the opening round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs and are focusing on their next opponent.
The Blackhawks are a familiar foe for the Minnesota Wild in the post season. Just over a year ago Chicago made fairly short work of Minnesota, dispatching them in five games, en route to their second Stanley Cup Championship in four years. This year the Wild say things will be different. Game one is tonight with face off scheduled for 8:30 pm Central Time at the United Center.
This is not the same Wild team as a year ago and this is definitely not the same Blackhawks team as well. A year ago Minnesota had trouble scoring against Chicago totaling just 7 goals in five games with no player scoring more than one. This season in the first five game of their opening round battle with Colorado the Wild scored 12 goals. They surrendered 16 goals to Chicago in the series opposed to 14 goals in five games to the Avalanche this year. Last year the Wild went away in five games, this year they triumphed in seven. After five games in 2013 the Wild were 1-4, this year they were 2-3 with momentum building.
The Stanley Cup Playoff experience level of the Minnesota Wild was much lower last season with many of the squads young players making their playoff debut. This year the Wild’s team has many more games of playoff experience and the attitude to go along with it. That experience has shown in Minnesota’s scoring, defense and toughness, The Wild have been led in scoring by Zach Parise with three goals and 7 assists.
Minnesota defensemen have totaled 5 goals and 7 assists including Jared Spurgeon‘s game tying tally with just 2:27 to play in game 7 to send the game into overtime. That is just one example of the scoring depth the Minnesota Wild displayed in their first round series with the Avalanche. Thirteen different Minnesota players have scored a goal. A total of 15 players have at least a point, that’s really spreading the scoring around and making it tough for opposing coaches to get the matchups they want.
All said the Minnesota Wild are facing the team that did spank them last April en route to winning the Stanley Cup. However that was then an this is now. The Wild forward lines are playing with a confidence and swagger I haven’t seen for years. Not overconfidence and cockiness but a sureness and steadiness that saw them produce when needed in their series with Colorado. The forward lines for tonight will most likely be the same as game 7, at least to start the game. Those lines are:
The Wild are going to need some big games from the big guns, namely Parise, Pominville, Koivu, Moulson and Heatley. The younger stars need to keep up their play as well. I’m looking at you Coyle, Granlund, Niederreiter, and Haula. The defense is going to be needed to keep up their scoring touch and smothering defense too. In short the Minnesota Wild need to be firing on all cylinders if they hope to take down the defending Stanley Cup Champs.
The Minnesota Wild defense has biggest opportunity and challenge of the season in front of them. The Chicago Blackhawks put up 20 goals in 6 games as they dispatched the St. Louis Blues. They were led by Jonathan Towes (3g, 4a), Duncan Keith 2g, 5a), and Patrick Kane (3g, 3a). The top two lines for the Blackhawks are not as young and inexperienced as the Avalanche and little seems to rattle them. This is a Chicago team that has been there done that and know how to win as two Stanley Cups in 4 years demonstrate. The Wild defensive pairings will have their hands full but they are secure in the knowledge that the Wild have beaten the Blackhawks in three of the five meeting the teams had this regular season. Minnesota was 3-1-1 overall against Chicago over the 2013-14 season with a shoot loss in the final tilt by a 3-2 final score. The pairs for tonight will be the same as in game 7 with:
Now we get to the goal tender situation. If only I had a dollar for every time I wrote “Minnesota Wild goal tender situation” this season. The Wild have dressed 7 different goalies and used 5 of them in games this season. Tonight it will be Ilya Bryzgalov in net. He came on in game 7 in relief of Darcy Kuemper who left due to injury midway through the third period. Bryzgalov got the game 7 victory making a grand total of one, yes ONE, save in the final 8+ minutes of regulation and 5:02 of overtime. He is the first goalie since the 1987-88 season to achieve a Stanley Cup Playoff victory in that fashion. Entering play tonight Bryzgalov has a record of 1-2 with a goals against average of 4.25 and a .826 save %. Those are not spectacular numbers for a goalie in the Stanley Cup Playoffs and the Minnesota Wild need a solid performance, make that a GREAT performance from Bryzgalov tonight.
The slate is clean and the Minnesota Wild have the players, the coaches, and the intangibles to defeat the Chicago Blackhawks in the “Madhouse on Madison” this evening. The Wild need to do a few things to help their own cause tonight. One of the biggest items is avoiding taking unnecessary, stupid and lazy penalties tonight or at any time in the series. The Chicago power play hasn’t been very good, converting just 15% of the time so far in the post season. That said that can change in a big hurry with the talent on their PP units. Conversely the Wild need to start converting more power play chances of their own as they are at a paltry 14.3% pace to this point in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Specials teams play is going to go a long way toward determining the winner of this series.
A couple of other items the Minnesota Wild need to continue doing is maintaining puck control in 5 on 5 situations. They were their most successful against the Avalanche when they kept the puck in the offensive zone and were able to get multiple shot attempts and shots on goal in a single possession. Unforced errors and turnovers will be a killer for the Wild if they can make the Blackhawks commit them and avoid them themselves. One more must for Minnesota is getting in close on Corey Crawford, pounding home rebounds and making the most of any second chances the Chicago net minder affords them.
I’ll be back after the game with the usual recap and analysis. The Minnesota Wild have a huge opportunity in front of them. It’s time for this 2013-14 team to make the most of it. They are in control of their own destiny as they continue their quest for Lord Stanley’s Cup. These are exciting days in the State of Hockey!! Until next time this is Scott Drain warmin’ up the vocal cords for a loud evening of Minnesota Wild hockey action. I’m shoutin’, screamin’, and shriekin’, “LET’S GO WILD – BEAT DA’ ‘HAWKS – LET’S GO WILD!!!”