The Minnesota Wild have done exactly as Hockey Wilderness predicted. They challenged for the Northwest for a bit before settling into who they are and making the playoffs as the eight seed in the West. What they do from here is up to them (maybe a little up to the Hawks), and is purely icing on the cake of life. Some will demand that since they made it in, they must win the Cup. Reality says that is unlikely.
The Wild's blundering in April moved them out of nearly every favorable matchup they may have secured, and put them head long into a speeding train that is the Chicago Blackhawks. On paper, and to be honest... on the ice, the Hawks out class the Wild in every aspect of the game. There is, quite literally, nothing the Wild have that the Hawks don't, and the Hawks are everything the Wild wish they could be.
It's a classic match of David and Goliath, save that Goliath also has the rock, and David is tied up and staked down on top of a large fire. Yes, it really is that bad.
The Wild look to be getting Jason Pominville back, and we can all hope that he is not rushing things. The Wild's top line of Zach Parise - Mikko Koivu - Charlie Coyle has been stoppable as of late, with the second line of Devin Setoguchi - Matt Cullen - Pierre Mac Bouchard / Jason Zucker has looked human, but Setoguchi is heating up just at the right time, but will need to overcome his training as a San Jose Shark to exit quietly and early from playoff contention.
The bottom six for the Wild will either be their strength or their Achilles' heel. Kyle Brodziak, Zenon Konopka, Mike Rupp, and Torreyy Mitchell will be tasked with stopping the vaunted Hawks offense, something they did for eight periods of hockey this year.
Where Pominville fits in is anyone's guess at this point.
Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Marian Hossa, Patrick Sharp, Brandon Saad. Enough said? Enough said.
Oh, and don't forget the fact that the Wild seem to really enjoy letting bottom six players beat them, and the Hawks have one of the best bottom 6's in the league. Should be fun watching Andrew Shaw and Dave Bolland win this series.
Ryan Suter and Jonas Brodin cannot play the entire game. With the Hawks holding home ice advantage, they will get the favorable matchups, and get their scorers out against Tom Gilbert, Clayton Stoner, Jared Spurgeon, and which ever of the other three headed terrible defenseman monster Mike Yeo wants to play in any given game. Suter and Brodin will be outstanding, and Brodin will shine on the big stage. The rest of them?
It's probably best not to think about it.
One of the best defensive corps in the league. Is it Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook that give them this title? Come on now. You know better.
The prodigal son and best defenseman ever to play the game is on this team. An unstoppable mix of speed, talent and hockey smarts, Nick Leddy is a god among men and is the only reason the hawks are where they are. If the Wild had not traded him for Former Third Overall Pick Cam Barker, the Wild would be the President's Trophy winners, and we would be talking about how the Hawks were about to get crushed.
Am I right?
Seriously, though, the Hawks have the elite top pairing to match up with the Wild's, but they also have a strong second pairing, and a third paring that won't crap themselves every time Parise has the puck.
Niklas Backstrom is either on, or he's not. It's as simple as that. He is an elite level NHL goalie when he is on his game, and a backup AHL level goalie when he is off. The playoffs are made for a goalie riding a hot streak, and if Backstrom can turn on the jets right now, the Wild have a realistic chance to stay in this series. If he doesn't, the Wild are done before the puck ever drops.
Josh Harding is still a massive question mark, and no one knows if he can come in and change a game that has gotten out of hand or not. He likely won't see much time unless Backstrom is hurt, so it is not a huge concern. Right now.
All of the trades, free agent signings, and drafting in the world don't matter. If your goalie is hot, you win in the playoffs. If he isn't, you're in for a terrible ride.
Ray Emery, with a record of 17-1-0 is hurt and won't play game one according to the Hawks. That leaves the oh so terrible Corey Crawford, with a record of 19-5-5 to pick up the slack. Both are above a .920 save percentage, and give up a measly 1.94 goals against per game. To compare, neither Wild goalies is at .920 save percentage, and Backstrom gave up 2.48 goals per game.
That doesn't bode well.
PP%: 17.9% (16th in the NHL)
PK%: 80.7% (18th in the NHL)
PP%: 16.7% (19th in the NHL)
PK%: 87.2% (3rd in the NHL)
The Hawks have everything they need to win. Offense, defense, goaltending... it's all there. They lost 12 times this season. Total. The Wild lost nine times. In April.
The Wild do have a chance to win the series, despite what the media says. They have played the Hawks well this season, save for one period, and there are no shootouts in the playoffs. While the match up on paper is lopsided, the Wild could put up a decent fight if everything falls into place at the right time. That's a big if. The Hawks look to be on a roll, with a paper wall between them and the second round.
The Wild can win this, but it is not likely.
Perfect World: Wild in seven.
Reality: Hawks in five.