The Minnesota Wild will be playing in the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the second consecutive season. The seventh-seeded Wild (43-27-12), who have been red-hot as of late, will face the second-seeded Colorado Avalanche (52-22-8) in a best-of-seven first round series.
After a minor collapse with a few weeks left in the regular season, the Wild seemed to find a new gear in the final push for the playoffs. With an impressive 6-1-1 record in its final eight games, the Wild pulled off several key wins over top NHL teams including Boston, Pittsburgh, Los Angeles, and St. Louis.
Games one and two of the playoff series between the Wild and Avalanche will be played in Denver, followed by two games at Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul. The teams will return to Denver for games 5 and 7, which will only be played if necessary, and game 6 will be at Xcel Energy Center.
Many Wild fans are relieved that the Wild is matched up with the Avalanche instead of the St. Louis Blues in the first round, after the Wild failed to win a single game against the Blues this season. However, Michael Russo, Wild beat writer for the Star Tribune, noted a number of talented Avalanche players in his blog that suggested that the series will be a tough one for the Wild.
“Guaranteed Calder (Rookie of the Year award) winner Nathan MacKinnon, 18, is already one of the most threatening players in the West. Gabriel Landeskog is a rock-solid two-way forward, as is Ryan O’Reilly. Bloomington’s Erik Johnson has had a terrific season on the blue line,” Russo writes.
After finishing with the second-worst record in the NHL in 2013, the improved depth of Colorado’s lineup has been a major factor in the Avalanche’s bounce-back performance this season.
The Wild, who were knocked out in the first round of the 2013 playoffs by Chicago, have also acquired a great deal of depth on offense in the last 12 months. With the additions of youngsters Nino Niederreiter, Justin Fontaine, and Erik Haula, as well as the most recent acquisition of elite winger Matt Moulson, the Wild has the firepower necessary to make a significant run in the playoffs.
Another component of the Wild to pay special attention to this postseason is its goaltending. In a whirlwind of injuries and inconsistent performances, the team has cycled through six netminders. While it seems that Coach Mike Yeo has been hesitant to confirm anything in the past few weeks about which goalie will be the starter throughout the playoffs, it is likely that the Wild will ride 33-year-old Ilya Bryzgalov, who was acquired in March from the Edmonton Oilers. Bryzgalov, who has had a career filled with ups and downs, boasts a 7-1-3 record since his first game with Minnesota.
According to Yeo, Bryzgalov’s level of play combined with the Wild’s defensive effort as a team has been a key factor in the squad’s recent success.
“Bryz has done a fantastic job since he’s been here, and his teammates have done a fantastic job in front of him,” Yeo said in an April 13th press conference posted on the Wild’s official website.
Other Wild players to watch this postseason include forward and leading point-scorer Jason Pominville, defensemen Ryan Suter, and fan favorite Zach Parise, who has taken on a primary leadership role in this season’s effort.
Should the Wild advance past the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs, they will meet the winner of the Chicago/St. Louis series in early May.
All games can be watched live on Fox Sports North, NBCSN or CNBC and can be listened to live on KFAN 100.3, the official radio home of the Minnesota Wild.