The Wild have made the second round for the second straight year and that means a new series with brand spankin' new predictions! We gathered the Hockey Wilderness staff together again to prognosticate and pontificate on the Wild's Western Conference Semifinal series against the Chicago Blackhawks.
Why the wild will win:
The Wild will use the speed they have throughout their for lines to beat a fairly slow Blackhawks defense corps. Wild defensemen will use their mobility to retrieve pucks and quickly get the puck up the ice to neutralize an aggressive Hawks forecheck and generate chances off of the rush. But even with all of these things going right, it all comes down to Dubnyk. If he's great, the Wild win, if he's average, well that's when things get muddy.
Why the Hawks will win:
Kane, Toews, Sharp, Hossa, BICKELL! The Wild only have one true shutdown line (Koivu), but if you notice, the Hawks have more than one line of stars. If these top end guys can continue their scoring pace from the first round, that eases the pressure on their defense and goaltending. Crawford only needs to be average for his team to win, and despite a shaky first round, his overall history indicates that he's very average, and we should expect that going forward.
Prediction: Hawks in 7.
Why the Wild Win
Aside from a Game Four thrashing, Devan Dubnyk was exceptional with a .946 save percentage, a 1.40 goals against average and a shutout. Consistent offense and good defense will win you games and even entire series, but it's goaltending that will win you championships. Minnesota had goal scoring from 11 different players, and I think we can all appreciate a balanced offensive attack. However, we're facing a like-minded speed team in Chicago, and they'll take Minnesota's game and throw it right back. Dubnyk can't have the struggles the Blackhawks have seen in Corey Crawford and Scott Darling.
Why the Wild Lose
Chicago is a whole new team with Patrick Kane back in the lineup, and that's scary. In six games against Nashville, the former first overall pick had two goals and seven points. Yet Jonathan Toews led the team - a team that struggled to score without Kane in the lineup - with eight points. Yes, while Toews is Chicago's heart, Kane is the soul, and the body is now alive and thriving with both heart and soul healthy. With that in mind, there is really no reason why the Blackhawks can't win their third Stanley Cup in six years.
Dubnyk has been spectacular since coming to Minnesota. He has renewed the confidence of the club in its goaltender, and the Wild finished the season as the league's best second half team. In fact, after the trade, Minnesota didn't lose two games in a row in regulation the rest of the regular season, and that trend has continued in the playoffs with wins in Game's One, Three, Five and Six. Common sense tells me Chicago comes out on top, but I just can't not have faith in Minnesota. Wild in seven.
Why the Wild Win:
Why the Wild will lose:
Allowing Corey Crawford to beat them. The past two series with Chicago, first round in 2013 and second round last year, the Wild have been unable to get to Crawford. This is a goalie who is certainly playoff tested, but who also really struggles with rebound control when his net gets pressured. How many times have we seen Crawford seemingly hungout to dry when the Wild are pressuring on offense and we just can't capitalize, whether it's hitting a post, missing the net, throwing a shot into his pads, or even right into his glove, the Wild haven't been able to expose arguably Chicago's biggest weakness. The two games the Wild won against Chicago in the second round series last year at home Crawford gave up 3 goals in game 3 and 4 goals in game 4. In games 1, 2, 5, and 6 he gave up four goals total. If we can't make Crawford pay for his mistakes we won't win.
Prediction: Wild win in 7.
Tiffany McAnnany (1sadcown)
Why the Wild Win
The Blackhawks are the most successful of the perennial "contenders." But the Wild are healthier than they've ever been in the playoffs, and the Wild have more depth and better depth than they've had the last two seasons when the Blackhawks eliminated them. The players who were just rookies when the Wild were eliminated in 2013 have now matured into veterans who barely celebrated a first round series victory. The Wild's depth now matches the Blackhawks, and the Wild's work ethic combined with the depth the team has this year will be the key to victory.
Why the Wild Lose
The Blackhawks are exceptional at coming back from being behind, so if the Wild build lead, they're going to have to continue to play like they're behind. A two goal deficit is nothing to the Blackhawks who seem to score at will and score when the pressure is highest. If the Wild think the game is done before the final buzzer sounds, they could be in for some heartbreak.
This is the good guys' year. Wild in 7.
Chris Boyd (mntrumpterguy)
Why the Wild will win:
The Wild have fallen to the Hawks the last couple years, and they are tired of it. With renewed confidence in their backstop Dubnyk, the Wild find a way to win a single game (7) in Chicago, and turn around their performances at home to win all three. Chicago plays well, with Bickell playing his usual role of spoiler in two of the game. Ultimately, the depth scoring of the Wild combined with the shakiness of Crawford is able to see the Wild through to the third round for the first time since 2003.
Why the Wild will lose:
Crawford has rediscovered his former self. Toews and Kane go on an absolute tear, and Bickell scores 9 points in 7 games. The Wild score well, but Dubnyk's form is unable to see them through. Despite posting an admirable .934 through the 2nd round, the Wild simply aren't able to withstand the speed and skill of the Hawks. After a back-and-forth series, the Wild push the Hawks to a game 7, but never have a chance, falling 5-2 in their final game of the season.
Prediction: Wild in 7.
Why the Wild Win
The Wild finally get over the hump because instead of defensemen that resort to pitching the puck off the boards because it is the only thing they are good at like Clayton Stoner and Nate Prosser, the third pairing is Matt Dumba and Jordan Leopold. Both guys make a difference in turning the puck the other way and keep the Hawks mostly at bay. The Wild did a great job of collapsing in front of their goaltender Dubnyk and blocked a lot of shots. Blackhawks may shoot a ton, but the scoring chances will even out and make for a series that is back and forth, but Dugnyk continues to be the storyline for the Wild's season.
Why the Wild Lose
Chicago is just too good. They are in the Wild player's heads and the Wild go out of body and lose its solid defensive structure trying to be something they are not. Like they say in Chicago, "He is Marian Hossa, and you are not." Yes, it will be Hossa that owns the Wild in the series and is the epitome of the 'Blackhawks score at will' type of dominance. Not to mention that damn Chelsea Dagger song that we have to listen to.
Prediction: Blackhawks in 7
Tony Abbott (Tony Wiseau)
Why the Wild Will Win:
The Wild offset the Blackhawks' edge in Top-6 with their depth, or at least make it close enough. Jared Spurgeon, Marco Scandella, and Matt Dumba assert themselves, giving the Wild a notable advantage on defense. Someone like Jason Zucker can terrorize the Blackhawks with speed the same way Erik Haula did last year. Mike Yeo travels back in time to stop his past self from killing Bryan Bickell's family. Patrick Sharp unleashes Angry Mikko by sleeping with the Kaptain's wife.
Why the Wild Will Lose:
Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, and Marian Hossa are all elite hockey players who do elite hockey things. For as much as people remember Corey Crawford's struggles in Games 3-4 last year and Round 1 this year, he's a pretty good goaltender, and a return to form could spell trouble for the Wild.
Prediction: The Wild gave the Blackhawks a tough time last season before Patrick Kane eliminated the Wild in 6. The Wild are better than they were last season, with upgrades at forward, defense, and goal from where they were last season. I think Chicago is a better matchup for the Wild than St. Louis, and they beat them in 6. I think with that depth, and with Dubnyk, it's the Wild's year. Wild in 7.
Aaron Holm (The Noogie)
How the Wild Win
The Wild's stifling defense needs to be at it's best. Making a mistake against Patrick Kane can be fatal. Devan Dubnyk is going to need to secure his crease, and have great rebound control. For the love of all that is holy could somebody stop Bryan Bickell too? The guy is a straight menace to the Wild, it's embarrassing! For whatever reason, the Hawks seem to have the Wild's number, especially in the playoffs. This is definitely not an insurmountable task, but it will be important that we are able to roll all 4 lines, get secondary scoring, and get that PK back to the form we saw in the regular season.
How the Hawks Win
It's very simple. The Hawks just need to be successful at their game. They have been doing this for a long time now, and they're pretty damn good at it.
Every bone in my body tells me that the Wild will blow it, something will go horribly wrong and it will be over before we know it. But screw all that noise! Wild will get this monkey off their back! These Hawks can't stop Parise! Kid is going to take this team on his back and push the Wild through by sheer will and determination! Wild in 6.