After a thrilling seven-game series against the Colorado Avalanche, the Minnesota Wild will test its tired legs in Game 1 of the best-of-seven Western Conference semifinals against the Chicago Blackhawks.
Yes, those same Chicago Blackhawks. The team that hoisted Lord Stanley's Cup last season. The team that wiped the floor with the Wild in last year's quarterfinal round of the playoffs, sending the Wild home in a quick five games.
A column in the Chicago Sun Times predicts the Blackhawks will eliminate the Wild in five games. That's all right, Wild fans. The majority of hockey experts picked the Avalanche to win in five or six games, too. It didn't happen.
The keys to the series, per the Sun Times report, come down to three aspects.
- Chicago has more star power
- Chicago leads the postseason with a 93.1 percent penalty kill
- Minnesota may not have a reliable goalie
That third item is most worrisome. Ilya Bryzgalov was benched after allowing eight goals on 45 shots in Games 1 and 2 against Colorado, but he was back in the net for the final 13 minutes of Game 7 after Darcy Kuemper left with an undisclosed injury.
Michael Russo reports that Bryzgalov will start Game 1, with John Curry serving as the backup. Considering the fact that Bryzgalov and Curry are the fourth and fifth goalies the Wild has used this season, the Wild shouldn't be in the second round of the playoffs. Teams rarely survive drastic changes in net.
“We’ve had a pretty unique goaltending situation this year, but it really hasn’t affected us in the locker room at all,” Zach Parise said. “We’re comfortable with whoever we’re playing with and it really hasn’t changed the way we play at all.”
Game 1: MN @ CHI - Friday, May 2 at 8:30 p.m.
Game 2: MN @ CHI - Sun., May 4, 2 p.m.
Game 3: CHI @ MN - Tue., May 6, 8 p.m.
Game 4: CHI @ MN - Fri., May 9, 8:30 p.m.
Game 5: MN @ CHI - Sun., May 11, 8:30 p.m.
Game 6: CHI @ MN - Tue., May 13, TBD
Game 7: MN @ CHI - Thu., May 15, TBD
According to ESPN, the fact that the Blackhawks have been dominant on the penalty kill isn't a good sign for the Wild.
Minnesota went 3-21 on the power play against Colorado, and just 3-16 against Chicago during the regular season.
The fatal flaw for each team, ESPN says, will be the drive for Minnesota. How much does the Wild have left in the tank after a grueling series against the Avs. For Chicago, fatigue could be a major factor. Unlike last year's team, Chicago didn't coast into the playoffs and the second round.
All signs point to Chicago being favored to win the series. But Chicago coach Joel Quenneville recognized the fact that Minnesota isn't a team to overlook. It's a team that took three of five games against the defending champs during the regular season.
“It is definitely a different team,” Quenneville told CSN Chicago. “You’ve got to commend them on how they played at the end of the year to get themselves in the playoffs. Had a great run and had a lot of momentum going into that series, and they played a great series.
“You watch them last night. They played very structured, very solid game.”
By the way, NOBODY at ESPN is picking the Wild.