Tonight your Minnesota Wild will welcome the Chicago Blackhawks back into the Xcel Energy Center to face off in another pivotal game 4 in the Wild's quest for the cup here in 2014. A lot of fans are riding a hockey high after the Wild were able to shutout the Blackhawks Tuesday, winning game 3 by a 4-0 margin. Fans are also quick to look back at the similarities of how the opening round played out with the Colorado Avalanche in a futile attempt at predicting future events.
With the Avalanche taking the first two games last round in Denver, the Wild were able to take care of home ice and shutout the Avs in game 3 winning 1-0 and coming back for game 4 and win yet again 2-1. The whole series was a emotional roller-coaster with each team holding serve at home until the deciding game 7 where the Wild were able to cast aside the Avs with an overtime victory. If that series didn't make your stomach uneasy you should probably head to the doctor and get checked for a pulse.
Seems awfully familiar doesn't it Wilderness? Losing 2 on the road, coming home and taking care of business at the X, shutting out the opposition in game 3, and goalie questions aplenty. A little too familiar.
Fans expectations for similar results in this round should come as no surprise. Recent decisions always come to the front of ones cranium despite the clear differences between last round and this one. Lets travel, back in time (back in time Conan?) Yes, all the way to the year 2013.
Last season the Wild snapped their 5-year playoff drought, crawling their way into (or nearly out of if you're a glass half empty sort of person) the playoffs only to be rewarded with facing the Blackhawks in the opening round and promptly being dismissed in 5 games. 5 games you say, but how could this happen?
Last season, the Wild were a young team. Not 18 year-old Nathan MacKinnon young, they had at least graduated from clip-on ties and Velcro shoes. They also rolled into the playoffs with a healthy goalie core but that would change before they could drop the puck in game 1, like immediately before puck drop.
Game 4 last year however would not go well for the Wild. The Blackhawks would come out swinging, scoring a goal within the opening 10 minutes of the contest, and that goal would be enough to win the game. Just for funsies however the Hawks would put up 2 more goals, shutting out the Wild 3-0 on their way to extinguishing the Wild's flame in just 5 games.
The Blackhawks, as we are all aware, are not the Avalanche. They are not a team you can take a shift off without facing the consequences. While I'm sure nobody expected the Wild to shutout the Hawks in game 3, holding the team scoreless for 2 consecutive games would require an insane amount of focus and drive from the Wild as well as more luck than a tray of four-leaf clovers on top of a pot of gold at the end of a rainbow.
This is not to insinuate the Wild are doomed. The Hawks however will come out hungry and play to their strengths, these guys are a lot more skilled than the Avs and will be ready to pounce on the Wild's mistakes. The Wild have a bit of a chip on their shoulder after shutting out the defending champs in game 3, but like any game we will need to forget it and move forward. Hanging your hat on past accomplishments will not get you very far in the playoffs.
Of course the Wild will get Matt Cooke back tonight but will be without Matt Moulson who has pulled up lame with a "lower-body injury" and will be absent from tonight's roster. Another difference between last series and this one.
The Wild will need to come out with the same physicality, stay out of the box and for the love of the hockey gods start completing some crisp passes! In my mind, the Wild's chances for a victory tonight increase the longer they keep the Hawks off the scoreboard. The Hawks will be hungry, they will drive possession and try to establish an early lead. It is up to the Wild to weather this storm and capitalize on any opportunity presented to them.