The work isn't done quite yet, Wilderness. Despite proving dominant in a 5-0 thrashing of the Colorado Avalanche, the Minnesota Wild still have 81 more games until the regular season is over, needing to still collect about 93-96 more points to earn a playoff spot.
In a weird way, the Wild will need to put their game on Thursday behind them. Their domination of the Avalanche Thursday can't let them be complacent at all- the Avs are still a legitimate NHL franchise, armed with a scary group of star forwards. If they don't approach this game looking to demonstrate the same level of hard work, they may find themselves on the receiving end of a blowout themselves.
An interesting thing to see leading up to the drop of the puck is who will be starting on the fourth line tonight. The fourth line of Jason Zucker, Kyle Brodziak, and Ryan Carter performed really well on Thursday. Zucker and Brodziak didn't allow one shot attempt in their time on the ice, and Carter had similar possession numbers while providing grit.
This brilliant play may not be rewarded, however. The big narrative tonight is about the possibility of the Avs responding to their humiliating defeat by getting retribution for Matt Cooke's injury to Tyson Barrie in last year's playoffs. This talk of revenge is leading Mike Yeo to consider bringing Stu Bickel in the lineup tonight over Kyle Brodziak. The same Kyle Brodziak that did not allow a shot attempt to his opponent in Game 1.
Like most lineup decisions that involve Stu Bickel playing, this makes little sense if your goal is to win a hockey game. The Avs had nothing to lose in the entire third period of last night's game, with 20 minutes in a lost game to level a cheap hit at the Wild. They didn't, and the Wild didn't need an enforcer to prevent violence in that situation. Carter performed enough physically enough to figure that whatever edge in physical play Bickel would provide won't offset the drop-off in skill if the Wild go from Brodziak to Bickel. It'll be a game-time decision, so let's hope Yeo comes to his senses.
On a positive note, I'll be very interested to watch the defense tonight. There are system writers (like our own Alec!) that would be able to explain it better, but even to my untrained system eye, the Wild's defense was looking much more aggressive than I had remembered. This led to nice goals from Jared Spurgeon and Ryan Suter, who absolutely murdered a puck in a way I don't remember seeing from him.
Marco Scandella rang a post on a hard shot, Jonas Brodin quietly fired a team-high 5 shots on goal, and Christian Folin and Mathew Dumba played enough minutes to avoid taxing Ryan Suter. If they keep up being aggressive, and in Suter's case, firing bombs like they did Thursday, we may have to start calling our defensemen "Team Rocket".
One final plea before turning over the comments to you: Can we please get Nino to play more than 13:31 tonight? Please? Can we please play one of our best players 15-18 minutes? Is that too much to ask for?
Have fun, be nice, and Go Wild!
Zach Parise - Mikael Granlund - Jason Pominville
Matt Cooke - Mikko Koivu - Thomas Vanek
Erik Haula - Charlie Coyle - Nino Niederreiter
Jason Zucker - Kyle Brodziak - Ryan Carter (Best-Case)
Jason Zucker - Ryan Carter - Stu Bickel (Yeo Loses His Mind)
Ryan Suter - Jonas Brodin
Jared Spurgeon - Marco Scandella
Mathew Dumba - Christian Folin
Darcy Kuemper - Niklas Backstrom
Gabriel Landeskog - Ryan O'Reilly - Dennis Everberg
Jamie McGinn - Matt Duchene - Jarome Iginla
Alex Tanguay - Nathan MacKinnon - Daniel Briere
Cody McLeod - Marc-Andre Cliche - Max Talbot
Brad Stuart - Erik Johnson
Nick Holden - Tyson Barrie
Jan Hejda - Ryan Wilson
Semyon Varlamov - Reto Berra