For the second straight year, Minnesota has made it to the second round of the Stanley Cup playoffs. For the second straight year, the Wild's Round Two opponent will be the Chicago Blackhawks - a team they have faced for now the third year in a row.
In 2012-13, Chicago won in five games in the Western Conference Quarterfinals. Minnesota made it a much more interesting series in 2014-15, falling in six games in the West's Semis. Could the third time be the charm this season? It's possible. The Wild have more depth this season than ever, a Vezina finalist in net and are facing a Blackhawks team that has some serious question marks between the pipes.
Minnesota's top line of Zach Parise, Jason Pominville and Mikael Granlund leads the team in scoring with six goals, 17 points and a plus-9 rating. Parise and Nino Niederreiter are tied for the Wild's postseason goal scoring lead with three, and Parise stands alone with seven points.
On special teams, things have gotten weird. After an abysmal regular season on the man advantage, Minnesota's power play is now first in the league this postseason at 33.3%. On the penalty kill, the Wild's PK is ninth-best at 81.8%. Oddly enough, it's sixth-best out of the 10 teams left in the hunt.
Chicago, on the other hand, has struggled on both the power play and penalty kill, going 15.8% and 72.7%, respectively. Captain Jonathan Toews leads his 'Hawks with eight points, and his three goals are tied with Patrick Sharp for the team goal scoring lead. Sharp seems to have emerged from his regular season offensive funk, scoring five points in six games. Patrick Kane and defenseman Duncan Keith both have two goals and seven points in their series, and they'll both be formidable foes in the next round.
In goal, Joel Quenneville has a difficult decision to make. It's not that both of his goaltenders have been great this postseason. Rather, they've struggled at times, particularly his Stanley Cup winning starter. Both Corey Crawford and Scott Darling have been pulled, and both have also won in relief. Crawford started and ended the series, but his numbers between were terrible. In three games played, he had a win, a .850 save percentage and a 4.19 goals against average. Darling looks better with three wins, a .936 save percentage and a 2.28 goals against average. Those numbers look really good actually, but Crawford had to come in and save his bacon at least once.
This Week's Schedule
As of right now, no schedule has been released for the second round, but the final two match-ups in the East could be decided as soon as tonight. According to the Star Tribune's Michael Russo, it was thought Chicago would begin play on Friday night if the Wild/Blues series went seven games.
WC semifinal schedule hopefully will come out tomorrow. If there was a Game 7, #hawks were expected to start Fri. Not sure if that's changed— Michael Russo (@Russostrib) April 26, 2015
We'll update this as soon as the schedule is released.
Friday 8:30 PM @ Chicago Blackhawks (NBCSN, SN, TVA2)
Sunday 7:30 PM @ Chicago Blackhawks (CBC, NBCSN, SN360, TVA2)
Key Player of the Week
Devan Dubnyk's save percentage over six games hasn't been spectacular (.913), but his goals against average is pretty solid at 2.32. However, take away Game Four (a 6-1 thrashing on home ice) and those numbers look amazing with a .946 save percentage and a 1.40 goals against average. Throw in four wins and a shutout into the mix and his numbers look nigh unbeatable. Wild head coach Mike Yeo will need his No. 1 goaltender to be at the top of his game if Minnesota is going to come out early and take a win or two at the United Center.
Key Opponent of the Week
Bryan Bickell. I'm kidding. Only partially. Or not at all. Moving on.
I was the idiot that had Nashville beating Chicago in six games, not the other way around. Now, in my defense, I had not counted on the Blackhawks having the services of a healthy Patrick Kane. They did, and he had two goals, seven points and a plus-3 rating in the series. If the Wild are going to advance to Round Three for only the second time in franchise history, they need to limit Kane's chances. We've all seen what he can do with the puck - after all, he was the guy to end Minnesota's run with a lucky bounce in overtime of Game Six last season.
Fortunately for the Wild, they have experience dealing with a game-breaking scorer in the Blues' Vladimir Tarasenko. The problem with Kane and Chicago is that they are a speed team and can take Minnesota's game and throw it right back at them. Puck possession will be key to take that speed advantage away from the Blackhawks. Take the puck and make them chase you. If the Wild can do that, Chicago could be in for the toughest series of the 2015 postseason.