Today, the Minnesota Wild play their first playoff game in over five years. Unless you have lived under a rock for the past four days, you know their opponent in the first round is, without a doubt the best team in the league, the Chicago Blackhawks.
After seeing how all the experts have picked this series, the Wild would be extremely lucky to get this series to six games (99% think the Wild will be ousted in five games or less). If they want to have ANY CHANCE to upset the President's Trophy winners, they must have the following five things go right:
- Niklas Backstrom: Backstrom has been very shaky down the stretch, only registering a .900 save percentage or better in two out of his final seven starts. He did finish the season tied for first in the NHL with 24 wins, but his overall Save Percentage (.909) and Goals Against Average (2.48) rank 28th and 23rd respectively in the league. The Wild have been very reliant on their 35 year old net-minder this season, and will rely heavily on him once again in the postseason.
- Matt Cullen and Devin Setoguchi need to get hot again: When the Wild fired off seven consecutive wins in March, Cullen and Setoguchi were right at the center of their success. During that stretch, the pair had a combined eight goals and eight assists while being +10. Since that streak, they have combined for 10 points in 16 games (Cullen missed six games with injury during that time as well), and the team has played very inconsistent. Coincidence? Definitely not.
- Defenseman have to play absolutely flawless: As we saw in the last game with Chicago, one mistake by a defenseman can cost you the game. Despite Ryan Suter being a legitimate Norris Trophy candidate and the emergence of Jonas Brodin as a top pairing defenseman, the Wild defense has been horrifying at times. Tom Gilbert has been dreadful in all aspects of the game this year, you hardly remember noticing Jared Spurgeon doing something right, and Clayton Stoner has been a scapegoat for Wild fans with his play (however, he has improved lately). Marco Scandella was called up, and all indications are that he will be in the lineup tonight. Scandella had a forgetful year at Houston, but there is belief he can play effectively with the big club. All of these d-men MUST play flawless every shift they are on the ice, or otherwise, any of Chicago's four lines will make them pay dearly.
- Finding Angry Mikko: In that game in March against Phoenix, Mikko Koivu made tremendous plays to tie the game, then win the game. We saw the Wild captain more determined than, perhaps, ever before. The Wild need that same fire and determination from their leader in this series. If they don't get that from him, they could very well go four and out, ending their season.
- Work hard and hope a bounce or two goes your way: If the first four keys come true, the Wild have a chance to upend the Hawks. But even so, they are playing a team that just dominates every aspect of the game, and they do it very well on a nightly basis (Reminder: Chicago lost 12 games out of 48 this season). If the Wild can work hard for 60 minutes, and hope they get a bounce or two (Usually you get one or two if you can continue to work hard), maybe they can pull off some victories and make Chicago sweat.