Playoff hockey is nearly here as the Minnesota Wild gear up for a difficult opening-round series against the Central Division champion Colorado Avalanche.
The Avs clinched the No. 2-seed in the Western Conference when the Blues lost to the Red Wings on Sunday. Minnesota clinched the top wild card spot, the No. 7-seed, early last week.
Both teams enter postseason play as two of the hottest teams in the NHL. Minnesota finished 6-1-1 over its final eight games while Colorado cruised to an 8-1-2 record over its final 11 games.
This year's Avalanche went from worst-to-first in the Central Division, piling up 52 wins and 112 points in the process. The 52 wins matches a franchise record that was set by the 2000-01 Stanely Cup champion team, according to the Denver Post.
“This is a good team, a really good team,” head coach Mike Yeo said of Colorado, according to Michael Russo of the Star Tribune. “Winning their division the way that they’ve gone from start to finish, this is a team that we have to have a lot of respect for. Skill level, very dynamic, very creative, so defensively it’s going to be a challenge for us. With that, they’re an in-your-face team and how we execute is going to be very important, too.”
NHL.com put together a series preview and cited Minnesota could pull the first-round upset if:
Depth players help execute a team game that keeps opposing scoring chances to a minimum and star players lead the way with timely scoring. That balance will be crucial. It will be a tough go for Minnesota if it relies too heavily on Parise, Suter, Koivu and Pominville. Bryzgalov has helped lead Minnesota through the key late-season stretch that got it into the playoffs. If he can continue to provide that stout goaltending, his trade for a fourth-round pick could turn out to be an unexpected turning point in the Wild's season.
A huge key to the Wild's chances could be that Colorado forward Matt Duchene is expected to miss the entire series with a knee injury. Duchene led the Avalanche with 70 points in 71 games this season.
According to the Pioneer Press, in their past 19 games, Minnesota is 13-3-3 at the Pepsi Center in Denver, Colorado. But don't be fooled, the Avs handled the Wild, winning four of five games this season, including both in St. Paul at Xcel Energy Center.
Here's the series schedule. See more at Wild.com.
- Game 1 – Thursday, 4/17, Minnesota at Colorado, 8:30 p.m.
- Game 2 – Saturday, 4/19, Minnesota at Colorado, 8:30 p.m.
- Game 3 – Monday, 4/21, Colorado at Minnesota, 6:00 p.m.
- Game 4 – Thursday, 4/24, Colorado at Minnesota, 8:30 p.m.
- Game 5 – Saturday, 4/26, Minnesota at Colorado, TBA (if necessary)
- Game 6 – Monday, 4/28, Colorado at Minnesota, TBA (if necessary)
- Game 7 – Wednesday, 4/30, Minnesota at Colorado, TBA (if necessary)