A Preview of Round 2 – Minnesota Wild vs Chicago Blackhawks – So we meet again

Minnesota Wild vs Chicago Blackhawks in the 2nd round of the 2015 Stanley Cup Playoffs

So we meet again…The Minnesota Wild play the Chicago Blackhawks in the playoffs for the 3rd straight season.

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?

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Gopher Hockey – START Being More Defensive

Gopher Hockey needs more defense if they hope to start winning as of 2014-15 regular season nears the end

Gopher Hockey needs more defense if they hope to start winning as the 2014-15 regular season nears the end

Gopher Hockey had a good weekend against the Wisconsin Badgers. They won 7-5 on Friday night & tied 4-4 on Saturday night with a late goal by Seth Ambroz with 2 seconds left but ended up losing in a shootout. They gave up 9 goals to a team that has averaged 2 goals a game this season. Yes, they scored 11 goals but offense has very rarely been a problem for the Gophers.

*2 seconds left? I bet Justin Holl was wondering why they left so much time on the clock.

The biggest problem in this disappointing 2014-15 Minnesota Gopher Hockey season appears to be on the defensive end of the ice. They are allowing way too many goals and it’s killing their chances to win games. It’s team defense too, not just the defensemen and the goalie. It’s the defensive zone that has to get fixed for this team to turnaround the season and make it into the NCAA tourney.

Last season the Minnesota Gophers allowed 2.07 goals per game, took about 3.39 penalties a game, had a penalty kill percentage of 84 percent and Adam Wilcox had a save percentage of .929. This season they’re allowing 2.67 goals per game, taking 3.88 penalties per game, have a penalty kill percentage of 80 percent and Adam Wilcox has a save percentage of .901.

Adam Wilcox has been scored on 63 times this season through 24 games. He was scored on only 75 times last season in 38 games. He hasn’t been as good as he was last season for sure but he’s still the same great goalie and he’ll make the game-saving save when he needs to but he needs the team in front of him to play better in front of him.

There’s too much “puck-watching” in the D-zone while the opponents roam freely getting open for scoring chance after scoring chance. Guard a man! That means actually guarding him, not just being close to him. Know where they puck is, yes, but keep track of your man.

Is it the young guys new to the team or players moving into new roles? They lost a lot of leadership from last season’s team but the returning players should get them on the same page on what needs to be done in the defensive part of the game. You can’t win if you don’t play defense!

Defense isn’t exciting and doesn’t show up on the stat sheet or in the highlights but most players do not continue playing competitive hockey if they don’t know how to play defense or give the same effort defensively as they do offensively. Preventing a goal is just as important as scoring a goal. There’s a reason the saying goes…


THANKS for reading!

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The State of Gopher Hockey – Will the Gophers Miss the NCAA Tournament?

Will Gopher Hockey miss the NCAA tournament

Two losses in the North Star College Cup has the Gophers in danger of missing the NCAA Tourney

Gopher Hockey is in serious danger of missing the NCAA tournament after losing both games in the North Star College Cup. Since sweeping Notre Dame in the beginning of November, the Gophers are 4-9-2 with 44 goals for & 44 goals against in that 15 game stretch. They are also 2-2-2 and 4th in the Big Ten conference with 23 goals for & 18 goals against. This is the team that began the season as the #1 ranked team in the nation, or is it?
Is this the Same Team from Last Season?
This is, for the most part, the same team that went to the National Championship game last season. They lost Nate Condon, Justin Holl, Jake Parenteau and Tom Serratore. In terms of stats, that’s 50 points (13 goals, 37 assists) and a plus/minus of +45. That doesn’t seem like much to replace among 4 players. That’s 12-13 points, 3-4 goals, 9-10 assists and a plus/minus of +11 or so.
New recruits come in and/or older players progress and should fill those roles, right? One top-end player to replace Condon, a depth player that will do whatever is asked of him with the versatility to play either forward and/or defense and play well, a bottom pair defenseman that will give you good minutes and make good decisions in all zones and a checking line forward with some grit that will forecheck and throw the body around. Wow, those roles don’t seem that easy to fill now, do they?
The big difference is the guys filling those roles last season were seniors. They knew the system and what the coaches wanted like the back of their glove. They played without thinking and didn’t worry about making mistakes. They just played the game. That only comes from playing in games, or experience. Obviously, practice helps but it’s not the same as games. That’s where you learn what to do but not necessarily how to do it. There’s never as much pressure in practice.
Conner Reilly has filled the role Nate Condon provided, at least on the scoring side of it. He is on pace (11G, 4A through 22GP) to score more points than Condon did last season.  Leon Bristedt has the ability to score or he wouldn’t have been put on the top line to begin the season. You can see the energy and compete level he brings.
On the back end, they’re still searching for someone to grab that 6th defense spot. Ryan Collins seemed to have a grasp on it but he didn’t play either game in the North Star College Cup last weekend with Steve Johnson playing on Friday, getting his first career point with an assist on the first goal, and Jack Glover playing Saturday. Do the coaches find these three players to be basically interchangeable at this point of the season? They are still changing up the defensive pairings which isn’t a good sign at this point of the season.
Last, but certainly not least, they don’t appear to have a gritty pest of a forechecking forward that will connect on a big hit every now and then. The guys I see that could fill that role are A.J. Michaelson and Christian Isackson. A dark horse to fill that role could be Robin Hoglund, the big Swede, who’s only played in 4 games this season. Could someone like Bristedt, Vinni Lettieri or Ryan Reilly fill that role? They are smaller players so they might not be able to bring that kind of physicality.
Is it “Must Win” Territory Now?
The Gophers have 14 games (8 at home, 6 on the road) left in the regular season before the Big Ten Tourney and are currently ranked 20th in the Pairwise rankings, 17th in the USCHO.com Poll and are not ranked at all in the USA Today/USA Hockey Magazine Poll although they would be 16th according to the votes collected.
I’ve never been a big fan of the “Must Win” game or theory. First of all, if you’ve gotten to a point in a season where you “Must Win” one game to keep your season alive, obviously things haven’t gone well up to that point. The Gophers need to be in a Must Win/Playoff mode if they hope to make anything out of this season because their backs are against the boards.
They just look like a beaten down team right now, beaten down by losing. It’s amazing how much the mental side plays with good teams and good hockey players. The lizard brain makes teams and players doubt their skills and their ability to win battles for the puck or make simple plays and they start to feel that “here we go again” mentality and their heads hang after a goal or a missed opportunity. The sticks start being gripped tighter and they don’t shoot the puck when they should because they’ve been in a slump.
Is there enough Leadership?
The leaders on the team, players and coaches, need to figure out what the problem is with this team. It’s not talent. They have plenty of talent. So what does that leave? Is it hard work? Motivation? The system? Do guys know their roles and how to play them? Is each and every player bought in to what the team is trying to accomplish? Are they playing for each other? Have they become a team or are they just a group of hockey players playing at the same time with the same jerseys on?
We’ve seen it way too much lately in the “State of Hockey” this season. The Wild have had problems with working hard consistently and that makes you question their motivation. I put doubt in the problem being in the system put in by the coaches because we’ve seen it work before so it’s either guys knowing the system and/or knowing how to play the system on the ice. It could also be nerves and being afraid to make a mistake on the ice?
It’s easy to put blame on the coaching staff because they are supposed to have the team ready to play every night but as a hockey player playing at the highest level of college hockey, motivation should never be a problem. Plus, this is a team that had to work very hard to get to the National Championship game last season and then were outworked by a Union hockey team that took it to them for 60 minutes! You’d think that would be stuck in their mind how bad it hurt to lose like they did in the Championship game last season.
More Gopher Hockey articles/news:
 THANKS for reading!
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Gopher Hockey Notes vs Bemidji State Beavers – 10-24-2014

Gopher Hockey finally got to our televisions Friday night as they took on the Bemidji State Beavers for their home opener. Having not seen the Gophers play yet this season, because neither the exhibition game nor the two games from the Ice Breaker tourney were televised, we may have not known what to expect even if the Gophers were the top-ranked team in the nation. Rankings mean very little on the ice.

Throw in that they were playing an in-state rival in Bemidji State and you never know what can happen. Beavers’ Head Coach Tom Serratore always has his team ready to play and they’d love to topple the Gophers from that number one spot.

Here’s Friday night’s line charts:

Line Chart – Minnesota Golden Gophers
Left Wing – Center – Right Wing
Leon Bristedt-18 – Kyle Rau-7 – Hudson Fasching-24
F-Sam Warning-11 – Justin Kloos-25 – Taylor Cammarata-13
Connor Reilly-21 – Travis Boyd-22 – Seth Ambroz-17
A.J. Michaelson-15 – Christian Isackson-26 – Vinni Lettieri-19
Left Defenseman – Right Defenseman
Jake Bischoff-28 – Mike Reilly-5
Ben Marshall-10 – Michael Brodzinski-20
Brady Skjei-2 – Ryan Collins-6
Adam Wilcox-32

Scratches: G-Nick Lehr-34 (back-up), G-Ryan Coyne-31, D-Jack Glover-3, D-Steve Johnson-4, D-Nick Seeler-12 (Transfer), F-Ryan Reilly-9, F-Mitch Rogge-27, F-Robin Hoglund-29

Line Chart – Bemidji State Beavers
Left Wing – Center – Right Wing
Markus Gerbrandt-23 – Nate Arentz-11 – Brendan Harms-18
Phillip Marinaccio-9 – Corey Ward-13 – John Parker-8
Kyle Bauman-14 – Gerry Fitzgerald-21 – Myles Fitzgerald-26
Charlie O’Connor-22 – Mitch Cain-27 – Phil Brewer-19
Left Defenseman – Right Defenseman
Brett Beauvais-28 – Sam Windle-4
Sam Rendle-20 – Matt Prapavessis-7
Ruslan Pedan-25 – Graeme McCormack-12
Michael Bitzer-1

Scratches/Injured: G-Andrew Walsh-30, G-Reid Mimmack-33, G-Jesse Wilkins-35, D-James Hansen-3, D-Carter Struthers-6, F-Jay Dickman-6, F-Jordan Heller-15, F-Bob Kinne-16, F-Leo Fitzgerald-17

Of course, being the home opener at Mariucci Arena and having 16 players from last season’s team coming back, including Kyle Rau, Adam Wilcox and Hudson Fasching, you knew the Gophers would come out flying on Friday night. They did not disappoint!

Friday Night Rodents On Ice!!!
The Beavers had a tough spot playing the Gophers in their home opener and seeing a banner unveiled (1st ever B1G TEN CHAMPS) but they did a good job making sure to keep it a game for a while.

At 8:41 of the 1st period, Justin Kloos drove up the left side of the ice with speed. Taylor Cammarata trailed him a little bit going up the left center lane with Sam Warning trailing the play. Two Beavers went to Kloos so he curled towards the boards just before the half wall and hit a trailing Sam Warning coming up center ice.

Justin Kloos starts the play that ends in a Taylor Cammarata goal for the Gophers!

Speed kills when you’ve got Justin Kloos, Taylor Cammarata and Sam Warning on the same line.

Warning received the puck and one-timed a pass to Taylor Cammarata, who turned towards the net just after the face-off dot of the left circle and he was able to stick handle around Beavers goalie Michael Bitzer and put an easy backhand into the open net. That play was all about speed.

  • Kloos used his speed to quickly gain the zone than curled back to make a pass to Warning.
  • Warning made a quick pass to Cammarata
  • Cammarata used his speed to keep the defense honest by driving towards the net.


The 1st period would end with only the one goal scored. Early in the 2nd period, Kyle Rau would make a nifty little toe drag move while Leon Bristedt drove the net allowing Rau to go to his backhand for his 2nd goal of the season. Bristedt would pick up his 1st career Gopher assist and point on the play. You could argue that he should get two assists on the play because without him driving the net, that goal might not happen.

Kyle Rau Toe Drags to a Goal

Kyle Rau toe drags to get to the front of the net.


Breaking out of their own zone, a Gopher player tried to put a pass through a player, it hits a stick and because they were breaking out, Beavers forward Mitch Cain is behind the defense, receives a pass in the slot and fires one upper right over Adam Wilcox to cut the lead in half.

BEAVERS SCORE! 2-1 Gophers!

The Beavers had the momentum and Mike Reilly received an interference penalty to put them on the power play. The Beavers had a chance to tie the game but 15 seconds into the penalty kill, Brady Skjei ended up with a 2-on-1 with Travis Boyd on his left. Skjei opted to shoot the puck with Boyd going hard to the net.

Travis Boyd scores a short-handed goal vs Bemidji State on 10-24-2014

Travis Boyd drives the net on a shorthanded 2-on-1.

As you can see, Boyd had a step on getting to the loose puck first and he ended up burying it, scoring a short-handed goal. Drive the net, boys. It will change the game. Boyd doesn’t score there if he doesn’t drive to the net.


The Gophers killed off the rest of the penalty and got back to work, getting a power play off a Mitch Cain boarding penalty. Kyle Rau received a pass from Taylor Cammarata in the right corner just below the circle but in front of the goal line to the right of the net, facing the corner and he made a no-look pass on his backhand that found Travis Boyd backdoor.

Kyle Rau has eyes in the back of his head.

Kyle Rau makes a no-look pass behind his back to Travis Boyd for a power play goal.

Boyd had to reach for it but still got enough on the shot to hit the upper right corner and make it…


We can’t forget about Adam Wilcox now, can we? He has a way of making us not forget about him. Adam made a ridiculous stick save having to twist back to his right and reach to make a save with the paddle of his goalie stick.

Adam Wilcox uses the paddle of his stick to save a goal!

Adam Wilcox reaches back to his right to make a save with the paddle of his stick.

STICK to what you know!

The Gophers would get another power play goal in the 3rd from Hudson Fasching after Mike Reilly faked a shot and faked a pass then let off a quick, low shot to the front of the net. Hudson Fasching was set up in front of the net with his stick ready to tip a shot from the point but Reilly faking a slapper AND faking the pass then quickly firing it to the front of the net probably fooled the tendy and the penalty killers.

Hudson Fasching - PPG vs Beavers - 10-24Look how Mike Reilly is looking to make the pass to the left dot. He ends up not passing the puck and #24, Hudson Fasching is set up for the tip. Reilly fakes the pass then shoots it quick and low making it easy for Fasching to get his stick on the puck.


Cory Ward would score on the power play with 5:40 left in the 3rd to make the score 5-2 but the Gophers took over the game in the 2nd period and never looked back.

We’ll see how different tomorrow night’s game is.

THANKS for reading!

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Betting Tips on Next Year’s Stanley Cup

The NHL is now at that point of the season where the tables are starting to take shape and for those of you who like to place a bet, your eyes will surely be turning to the Stanley Cup next Spring. Last year threw up a few surprises, with Canadian dominance taking a further backseat as the Canadiens were the only team from Canada in the playoffs. The bookies are predicting the same thing to happen again this year, but out of the teams tipped to be in those playoffs, who is it worth placing a bet on for the win? It’s a little early on in the season just yet, but hopefully we can help you out.

On average as it stands, the bookmakers have the Chicago Blackhawks as favourites to win the Stanley Cup. With most bookies putting them in at odds of 7/1, they are shorter on the odds than you might expect by looking at the tables, where they stand 3rd at time of writing behind St Louis Blues and the Nashville Predators. With that in mind, if you’re feeling brave it may be worth placing a wager on the Predators – with odds of 25/1 and currently top of their division on the back of a 3 game win streak, even a couple of bucks would get you a nice return.

If the odds aren’t to your liking but you still fancy placing a cheeky little wager though, it might be worth taking a look at another way of combining hockey and gambling, for example with Break Away at an online casino like http://www.mobilecasino.mobi. There doesn’t seem much doubt that ice hockey fanatics will find a lot to enjoy about it, as the graphics on the reels are particularly high in quality. Most sports slot games pack the reels with relevant imagery, and Break Away is no different – with hockey players, referees, rinks, pucks and all manner of other sights across them. However the quality of these images is possibly the best with any of these games, and as they light up and are accompanied by audio, the combined effect is pretty thrilling – whether you love ice hockey or not. Of course, this is all well and good, but those of a casino, rather than sports persuasion, will care more about the payout.