Craig D. Schroepfer
With the Minnesota Wild advancing to the second round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs, the most common question being asked isn’t, “Is this the year we finally beat the Chicago Blackhawks?” It’s, “When does the series start?”
The Minnesota Wild ended the 2014-15 season Saturday with a 4-2 loss to the St. Louis Blues. Minnesota will have anywhere from four to seven chances to avenge that defeat over the next couple weeks as the Wild and the Blues face-off in the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. So which team has the edge? Let’s go to the tale of the tape.
The Minnesota Wild return to Xcel Energy Center this weekend to kick off their final home stand of the season. While the next five games should give us an idea of where Minnesota will fit in the playoff picture, it’s the first two home games for the Wild that could have the biggest impact in the Western Conference playoff race.
Last Wednesday the Minnesota Wild addressed their goaltending situation by trading a third-round pick to the Arizona Coyotes for Devan Dubnyk. Dubnyk made his Wild debut the following night, shutting out the Buffalo Sabres 7-0.
On Jan. 2, the Minnesota Wild defeated the Toronto Maple Leafs by a score of 3-1. The hope at the time was that winning the first game in 2015 would be a springboard to another playoff berth much like last year, when Minnesota defeated Buffalo in their first game of 2014. Instead, the Wild have lost six-straight games and find themselves eight points out from the final playoff spot.
The month of December was not kind to the Minnesota Wild. During the month the Wild went 4-5-3 and found themselves ranked 11 out of 14 teams in the Western Conference, and seven points out of a playoff spot.
When the NHL schedule came out this past summer the Minnesota Wild knew they had their work cut out for them. Eight of their first nine games were against teams that made the playoffs last season. A strong start could give the Wild an edge in the Central Division while a slow start could derail their playoff hopes before the month was even finished.
Last week in Buffalo, the Minnesota Vikings held onto a lead late in the fourth quarter before losing on the final play of the game. Thanks to a pair of rookies, history didn’t repeat itself today.
When we last saw the Minnesota Wild they were skating off the ice stunned after losing in overtime to Chicago 2-1 as the Blackhawks took the series in six games. While the sudden impact of the season being over may have hurt initially, fans could take solace in knowing that the Wild had their best playoff showing since their run to the Western Conference Finals in 2003.
The New England Patriots took full advantage of Adrian Peterson’s absence, though he might not have made much of a difference. Six sacks, four interceptions from Matt Cassel and a blocked field goal for a touchdown doomed the Minnesota Vikings Sunday, as the Patriots breezed to a 30-7 win, coach Bill Belichick’s 200th.
It wasn’t supposed to end this way. Going into the Stanley Cup Playoffs, many people didn’t give the Minnesota Wild a chance to win it all. The Wild finished with 98 points on the season, clinching the first wild-card spot in the Western Conference and a date with the Central Division champion Colorado Avalanche.
Former NHL head coach Barry Melrose has a saying that gets mentioned frequently each spring during the Stanley Cup Playoffs. “This time of year your best players have to be your best players,” Melrose said. That was the case in Chicago for Game 5 as the Blackhawks rallied from a 1-0 deficit, defeating Minnesota 2-1. Chicago now leads the series 3 games to 2.
History has a tendency to repeat itself. For the third playoff series in a row, the Minnesota Wild went into Game 3 at Xcel Energy Center looking for their first win, being down two games to none. And thanks to a pair of Finns, the Wild got that victory on home ice, defeating the Chicago Blackhawks 4-0. Chicago now leads the series two games to one with Game 4 on Friday night.
As you know by now, the Minnesota Wild won their first playoff series in 11 years, defeating the Colorado Avalanche in seven games to move on to the next round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
The 2014 Stanley Cup Playoffs got off to a rocky start for the Minnesota Wild. Game 1 saw Minnesota with a two goal lead going into the third period only to see the Avalanche rally to tie the game and then winning it in overtime by a score of 5-4. In game 2, Minnesota was unable to stop Colorado’s transition game in the neutral zone as the Avalanche out-skated the Wild, winning 4-2.