Back in 1991 there was Minnesota hockey team that just barely made the playoffs. They were the North Stars and since they just barely made it they were 'lucky' enough to draw the top seeded team in the Campbell Conference in arch rival Chicago Blackhawks. The Blackhawks were anchored by one of the best forwards in the NHL in Jeremy Roenick, as well as Steve Larmer, Dirk Graham and Michel Goulet. On the blueline the Blackhawks had the league's top defenseman in Chris Chelios and Doug Wilson as well as one of the elite netminders of his day in Ed Belfour. The Blackhawks were tough, fast, and possessed great depth. No one gave Minnesota a chance, they were said to be overmatched and not nearly explosive enough to beat Chicago. The North Stars were a team that was noted for its inconsistency in the regular season but that all changed in the playoffs as they used a wicked power play and some outstanding goaltending the toppled the mighty Blackhawks in just 6 games on route to a miraculous run to the Stanley Cup Finals. Enjoy this little trip down memory lane.
Much the same thing happened with a certain Minnesota Wild team back in 2003. The 3rd year Wild surprised everyone by making the playoffs with a collection of 3rd liners and one budding star player in Marian Gaborik. No expert felt the Wild who had one of the league's worst offenses had a chance against the ridiculously talented Colorado Avalanche who boasted Hall of Famers Joe Sakic, Rob Blake and goaltender Patrick Roy not to mention Milan Hejduk and Peter Forsberg. When the Avalanche got out to a 3-1 series lead it was supposed to be all over. Wild fans know what happened next. The Wild rallied back and pulled off the improbable comeback. The Wild were expected to be dominated by the Northwest Division champs, the Vancouver Canucks. Minnesota used great goaltending from Dwayne Roloson and a lethal power play to power themselves to another comeback. The main point is anything can happen in the playoffs. Neither the 1991 North Stars or the 2003 version of the Wild won it all, but they all accomplished a lot more in the post-season than anyone thought possible at the time. Just last year, an 8th seeded Los Angeles' Kings, a team that made the playoffs by one point managed to win it all. Anything can happen. Will the Wild create another great post-season memory or will be over as not much longer after it started?
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Tale of the Tape
#8 Minnesota Wild (26-19-3) vs. #1 Chicago Blackhawks (36-7-5)
2.46 Goals For (22nd) 3.10 Goals For (2nd)
2.60 Goals Against (16th) 2.02 Goals Against (1st)
17.9% Power Play (16th) 16.7% Power Play (19th)
80.7% Penalty Kill (18th) 87.2% Penalty Kill (3rd)
Top 3 Scorers: Top 3 Scorers:
1. Zach Parise 18G 38pts 1. Patrick Kane 23G 55pts
2. Mikko Koivu 11G 37pts 2. Jonathan Toews 23G 48pts
3. Jason Pominville 14G 36pts 3. Marian Hossa 17G 31pts
TOI Top 3 Leaders: TOI Top 3 Leaders:
1. Ryan Suter 27:16 1. Duncan Keith 24:06
2. Jonas Brodin 23:12 2. Brent Seabrook 21:59
3. Jared Spurgeon 21:32 3. Niklas Hjalmarsson 20:54
Top Goaltender(s): Top Goaltender(s):
1. N. Backstrom (24-15-3) .909% 1. C. Crawford (19-5-5) .926%SP
2. J. Harding (1-1-0) .863% 2. R. Emery (17-1-0) .922%SP
Season Series: (3 games) Blackhawks won 2-0-1
Series Schedule: *- If necessary
Game #1 Tuesday 4/30 at 7:00PM CST @ United Center ~ NBCSN, CBC
Game #2 Friday 5/2 at 8:30PM CST @ United Center ~ NBCSN, CBC
Game #3 Sunday 5/5 at 2:00PM CST @ Xcel Energy Center ~ NBC, CBC
Game #4 Tuesday 5/7 at 8:30PM CST @ Xcel Energy Center ~ NBCSN, CBC
*Game #5 Thursday 5/9 at TBD @ United Center ~ CBC
*Game #6 Saturday 5/11 at TBD @ Xcel Energy Center ~ CBC
*Game #7 Sunday 5/12 at TBD @ United Center ~ CBC
Why the Blackhawks will win: The Blackhawks have perhaps the deepest and most well-rounded team in the NHL combining a high-powered offense with a super stingy defense. Chicago can beat you in so many ways. It can overwhelm you offensively with a team that can roll 3 solid lines that can all produce goals led by team captain Jonathan Toews and sublimely talented playmaker Patrick Kane. They feature a variety of other potent forwards in Patrick Sharp and Marian Hossa as well as promising rookie power forward Brandon Saad who is already playing like a seasoned veteran. Viktor Stalberg and David Bolland can also be rather dangerous. The Blackhawks also have plenty of grit in forwards like Bryan Bickell, Daniel Carcillo and Andrew Shaw. Yet if the Blackhawks' offense simply doesn't overpower you, they can shut you down. Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook are one of most effective shutdown pairs in the NHL. Keith's speed allows him to stay with just about any forward in the league and he also can start the breakout quickly in transition. Niklas Hjamarsson is a tremendous shot blocker while Nick Leddy uses his wheels effectively to deny time and space and to move the puck efficiently up the ice. Between the pipes the Blackhawks have the most impressive 1-2 tandem in the NHL by far. Both Corey Crawford and Ray Emery have been tremendous for the Blackhawks and while I think Blackhawks bench boss Joel Quenneville will start the series with Crawford he knows he has an excellent option in Emery just in case Crawford struggles. This team has no glaring weaknesses and that shouldn't be a surprise as this team only lost 7 games in regulation all season. The 'Hawks know they will have a rocking crowd at the United Center and with the relative proximity to Chicago they might have a nice contingent at Xcel Energy Center too.
Why the Wild will win: The Wild enter this series with low pressure as most experts expect the Blackhawks to win with ease. Minnesota played the Blackhawks very tough this season and if the Wild can keep it close as they did in those games they just might surprise the Blackhawks. One thing in the Wild's favor is that the club seems to play better on the road than it does at home. The Wild for one execute on the Power Play much better on the road where they have the 3rd best power play. Minnesota's top line of Mikko Koivu, Zach Parise and Charlie Coyle very effective at working the puck down low and creating scoring chances. Devin Setoguchi looks as though he's re-ignited his game after a strong performance against Colorado and working with fellow speedy forwards Matt Cullen and Jason Zucker they give the Wild a nice change of pace as well as the ability to back opposing defenses off. It is still uncertain if Jason Pominville will be ok to go by Game 1 but he is skating again and if he's in the lineup he instantly gives the Wild 3 solid scoring lines as he works with Kyle Brodziak and Pierre-Marc Bouchard. Cal Clutterbuck, Zenon Konopka, Torrey Mitchell and Mike Rupp provide the grit and physicality that the Wild will need against Chicago. On defense, the Wild have one of the best in Norris Trophy candidate Ryan Suter and Calder Trophy hopeful Jonas Brodin whom the Wild will be leaning on heavily. Suter has logged over 30 mnutes eleven times this season and I'd expect that to continue in the post season. Tom Gilbert has been playing better as of late, and even though he's tiny, Jared Spurgeon will also log important minutes. Between the pipes is really where the Wild must have a Herculean performance from Niklas Backstrom. He has proven he can be lights out, but consistency hasn't always been there. He must be tremendous if the Wild are to have a chance. Minnesota's best bet is to keep the games low scoring and doing what they can to prevent it from becomng a track meet. Wild fans will pack the "X" and make it lively but Minnesota would be best served to simplify its game at home and it wouldn't hurt to channel 2003 and 1991 either.
Series Prediction: I think its pretty tough for me to completely count out the Minnesota Wild but this is a match up that does not bode well. The Blackhawks are bigger, more physical and feature a stronger defense which may be too much for the Wild's limited offense to overcome. I have no doubt the Wild will force the Blackhawks to earn it but I think Chicago will ultimately prevail. As great as Ryan Suter has been, he can't be on the ice all game long and the Wild will have a hard time defending the Blackhawks when he's not on the ice. My guess is 4-2 Chicago. Yet I'd love to be wrong.