The Minnesota Wild meet the Chicago Blackhawks in the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the 3rd straight season and the 2nd straight season in the 2nd round when the puck (or the ClutterPuck) drops tonight around 8:30pm. The last two seasons when these teams met, it was a foregone conclusion that the Blackhawks would defeat the Wild. It was just a matter of how many games it would take for Chicago to win the series.
In 2013, the Minnesota Wild were, basically, just happy to be in the postseason dance. They were that weird kid standing alone in the corner wondering why they were there and then they saw her. The Stanley Cup. They got the courage to go up and ask her to dance* but here came Mr. Popular, the Chicago Blackhawks, to steal their thunder and ruin their night. So they went home losing the series 4 games to 1 with that 1 win coming in overtime fashion. (Thank you, Mr. Zucker!) Not the results the Wild wanted but it was a step, the first step to becoming a champion. They saw up close how a championship team got it done in the playoffs. They learned how intense the playoffs are and how every possession and play is magnified!
*How do you dance with the Stanley Cup? Trust me, if the Minnesota Wild win Lord Stanley’s Cup, it will just happen. Everyone will be like, “Here, I’ll show you!” Everybody Loves Stan!!!
In 2014, we saw a team that figured out what it takes to win a series. They beat the Colorado Avalanche in a series that began looking like the Colorado would win the series pretty quickly. They figured out every game in a series is a different entity, something with distinct and independent existence and they could come back if they played the right way. They needed 7 games and overtime in Game 7 to do it. That Game 7 was almost a microcosm of the series, too. The Wild never led in the game until that final shot in OT. They came back from a 1-goal deficit 4 times. The only lead they had in the game and in the series was after the final shot! (PING! Thank you, Nino!)
Facing the Blackhawks in the 2nd round felt like they were ruining the dance again! They’d win game 1 & 2 by scores of 5-2 and 4-1, sending the Wild home, down 2 games. That 1st round experience showed them they could come back in a series and we saw a Wild team get that Home Ice Advantage, starting to play with confidence and really frustrate teams when they played at The X.* It was especially amazing to see how much they frustrated the reigning Stanley Cup Champions with their play on home ice. They would end up losing game 6 in overtime on a crazy bounce that went right to Patrick Kane and just like that, the Wild’s season came to an end.
The 2014-15 version of the Minnesota Wild had such a crazy regular season. They’d have a sickness or two go through the locker room, deaths of the fathers of their assistant captains and, of course, the problems in the net that seemed to make this team lose confidence in their whole game. Leave it to the Brown Fox to fix the problem with a 3rd round pick in his pocket that he’d offer to the Arizona Coyotes for Devan Dubnyk. Devan Dubnyk! How many people saw Devan Dubnyk being the savior of the season?
Everyone thought he was the backup for the Coyotes and, for the most part, he was. But, in December, he started more games for Arizona than starter Mike Smith did and to that point, DUUUBS had played very well, going 5-1-1 in the 8 games he started in with a 2.48 GAA and a .922 save percentage. Those are pretty good numbers for a team that only had 16 wins in 42 games. The Coyotes only had 8 wins in the 40 games after they traded Devan Dubnyk.
We all know how Devan Dubnyk has changed this team! Before Dubnyk (BD), the Wild were in a tailspin. They didn’t seem to have a clue what to do to win battles, win shifts or win periods let win a game. Once Dubnyk showed up, it was a different team. He’d start 38 consecutive games, only getting a game off after the Wild clinched a playoff spot. The Wild finished the last 40 games with a record of 28-9-3.
The 1st round started with Devan Dubnyk getting his first experience in the postseason. Save for a bad Game 4, where the Wild must have forgotten there was a game and lost 6-1, he would play his consistent great game and he may have gotten better after those bad 2 periods in Game 4.
The Wild A.D. (After Dubnyk) went 2-0 versus the Blackhawks, winning 3-0 at home in February and 2-1 in Chicago in April in the game that clinched a spot in the playoffs. The Wild B.D. (Before Dubnyk) lost all 3 of their games against Chicago before that, 5-3, 4-2 and 4-1. 13 goals against in 3 games to 1 goal against in 2 games is a pretty big difference.
The Wild had some struggles against the Blues but they seemed to “wake up” after getting blown out on their home ice in Game 4. They played better defensively since that game, playing with less panic and more poise. The confidence in their game came back and this team may have learned how to play a consistent game in the playoffs. No panic in their overall game will serve them well in the 2nd round.
What are the main factors when it comes to winning a series in the playoffs? There’s the obvious – the play of the goalie and special teams. The Wild have Dubnyk who’s been great. Their power play came alive in round 1 scoring 4 goals in 12 power plays. They had the best penalty kill in the NHL in the regular season and shut down the Blues, only allowing 2 goals in 11 power plays. The Blackhawks went back and forth in the 1st round with their goalies, they had the worst penalty kill of any team in the playoffs and their power play was only 3 for 19.
Looking at stats can only tell you so much as each team played a different opponent so it’s difficult to say the results would be the same against everyone in the league or everyone in the playoffs.
We can look at the talent on each team. The majority of people will say the Blackhawks have more talent than the Wild. They have Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews, Marian Hossa, Duncan Keith, etc… It’s hard to argue with their talent. The Wild do have Zach Parise, Mikael Granlund, Ryan Suter, Jason Zucker and more so they’re no slouch in talent.. All the talent in the world doesn’t mean anything against a team playing their system the right way, playing with confidence and working their asses off all over the ice.
How about depth at forward and defense and the whole lineup? The Wild got ahead and stayed ahead, came back to win once, every win was more than one goal and they won two games on the road. The Blackhawks had to continually come from behind and couldn’t hold leads throughout the 1st round. They allowed the Predators to respond quickly time after time.
My bottom line is the Minnesota Wild seem to have the team with more depth, are playing better in all areas of the game. They could be the Blackhawks from 2010 or 2013. Everything seems to be clicking at the right time. This is a team on a mission and they are ready to get over the hump of beating the Chicago Blackhawks now. They are not in awe of them like 2013. They are playing confident in every area of their game.
It will be a great series regardless of who wins, that’s for sure.
My prediction is Wild in 6!!!
Here’s the Series Schedule:
Game 1: @Chicago Friday 5/1 8:30 PM NBCSN
Game 2: @Chicago Sunday 5/3 7:30 PM NBCSN
Game 3: @Minnesota Tuesday 5/5 7:00 PM NBCSN
Game 4: @Minnesota Thursday 5/7 8:30 PM NBCSN
Game 5: @Chicago Saturday 5/9 TBD*
Game 6: @Minnesota Monday 5/11 TBD*
Game 7: @Chicago Wednesday 5/13 TBD*
What are your thoughts on this 2nd round match-up? Who do you got winning and why?