The Minnesota Wild now find themselves in an identical situation to last year as they head home for a chance to knot up the series. It'll all be for nothing if they can't win on the road, but let's just win at home first, shall we?
The Wild have depth, a (generally) solid defense and good goaltending - they're a Final-8 team in the league for the second year in a row - but they'll always be a Minnesota/Chicago series away from making tee times if something isn't done to remedy the situation. What is that something, you ask? I have no idea. General Manager Chuck Fletcher and head coach Mike Yeo have got the club this far. Firing either one of them most likely sends the club backwards. That leaves three things: a stellar draft (perhaps a high risk/reward first round pick), a blockbuster trade or a massive signing.
It sounds drastic, but needs to be done. Minnesota fans are always talking about how lucky Chicago is. They get some lucky bounces, sure. But they also have the hockey sense to be in the right place at the right time when those lucky bounces do go their way. The Wild don't get the puck luck nearly as often, but fail to capitalize on it when they do. Minnesota was a Jason Pominville whiff away from tying up Game One in the third period. Mikael Granlund fed him from the high slot, and Pommer found himself with a rare empty net and sent one wide of the sprawling Corey Crawford.
Puck luck goes in favor of those who work for it, just ask Ryan Suter. The Blackhawks penalty killers outworked him along the bench when he should have made the safe pass to a teammate and forced a turnover, leading to a shorthanded two-on-one and a ridiculously lucky bounce off the knob of Devan Dubnyk's stick and ended with the puck barely trickling into the net. That was the first goal of the game, which brought the crowd back into a frenzy that only got worse as Chicago then proceeded to drop three more on the hapless Wild. Sure, the Blackhawks can be and often are lucky, but they have guys like Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews, Patrick Sharp, Marian Hossa and Brandon Saad who make their own luck. The Wild have to make their own luck, otherwise they will never win the Stanley Cup or be worthy of it for that matter.
Minnesota has built a solid, competitive team. That said, it's not a Cup contender. What will it take to get to that? You can only make so many blockbuster trades before weakening the overall organization. Just look at the Rangers for an example. They have a team built to win now, but at what cost? Their future has been mortgaged, whether it's prospects or draft picks - they're all out in the window in favor of a Cup in the immediate future. The biggest issue is that the club hasn't stunk enough for a top-5 draft pick and is unwilling to draft or sign a high risk/reward player the likes of Vladimir Tarasenko, Filip Forsberg, Tyler Johnson and others over the years. That has to change.
This Week's Schedule
Tuesday 7:00 PM vs Chicago Blackhawks (CBC, TVA, NBCSN)
Thursday 8:30 PM vs Chicago Blackhawks (NBCSN, SN, TVA2)
Saturday TBD @ Chicago Blackhawks (TVA2)
Key Player of the Week
Anyone who can find a way to get the puck past Crawford. Seriously, why is it that he suddenly turns into a Vezina/Conn Smythe goaltender when playing the Wild in the playoffs? Puck luck is great, but it's not going to come for Minnesota without serious effort. When that luck does come, they have to capitalize. If they don't, the Wild can kiss this series goodbye. The 18,000+ extra people and last change at the Xcel Energy Center should hopefully play a big role, too. Minnesota could use all the advantage it can get.
Key Opponent of the Week
Turnovers and laziness. Both seemed to be the name of the game last night, and it was infuriating to watch. A big portion of it lay on the shoulders of Suter. It's a new day and it's time to wipe the slate clean, but this can't happen again if the Wild are to mount a comeback and take the series. Don't cheat, play an honest game and compete at the very highest of your ability. Make the simple plays, stick to the system and play your game, and everything else will fall into place. That's the general idea at least.