This is when the fun starts.
There is nothing in sports like the Stanley Cup Playoffs and the Wild skates for hockey’s ultimate prize for the first time in five years. Tonight, Minnesota opens its Western Conference Quarterfinal matchup against the National Hockey League’s best regular-season team, Chicago Blackhawks.
Many of the pundits and talking heads have the Blackhawks as the heavy favorite, and after the club’s record-setting regular season, it’s hard to dispute the point. However, the NHL resets in the playoffs and, if history tells us anything, regular-season standings are as meaningful as a philosophy book penned by Lindsay Lohan.
But it won’t be easy for Minnesota to knock off the high-flying Hawks. But here’s a little State of Hockey history lesson: In 1991 the Minnesota North Stars (27-39-14) beat the No. 1 seeded Blackhawks (49-23-8) in the first round and riding a hot goaltender, John Casey, all the way to the Stanley Cup Finals.
If that doesn’t have you feeling better, the President Trophy winner has lost in the first round of the playoffs in three of the last four seasons, and the Blackhawks just happened to claim the award this season.
It will be a tall task and the Wild knows it. Minnesota bench boss Mike Yeo spoke with the media about the challenge the club faces and what it will take to knock off Chicago.
“We’ve got to be great,” Yeo said after the team’s morning skate. “There’s no room for error.”
Making his Stanley Cup Playoff head coaching debut, Yeo added that the team has been up to the challenge of facing tough teams all season, “When we’ve gone against those types of teams, we’ve responded.”
Tonight, Minnesota will be without forward Jason Pominville, who missed the final two regular-season games with an upper-body injury. That means the forward lines will be: Parise-Koivu-Coyle; Zucker-Cullen-Setoguchi; Clutterbuck-Brodziak-Bouchard; and Mitchell-Konopka-Rupp.
Recalled yesterday Marco Scandella will skate on the blue line alongside Jared Spurgeon. Scandella was paired with Spurgeon for much of the season last year and Wild Head Coach Mike Yeo wants him to play a physical smart game on the back end.
Scandella is one of nine Wild players to make his Stanley Cup Playoff debut tonight including: Spurgeon, Kyle Brodziak, Jonas Brodin, Cal Clutterbuck, Jason Zucker, Charlie Coyle, Tom Gilbert and Clayton Stoner.
WildTV caught up with three of the players making their NHL postseason debuts. Brodziak talked about dealing with the nerves of playing in his first playoff game. Brodin spoke about playing big minutes as a rookie. Finally, Spurgeon talked about what it would take to slow down Chicago’s offense.
No surprise in net, Niklas Backstrom will get the start in goal. The goaltender is co-leads the Wild All-Time Playoff list in games played and games started with Dwayne Roloson (11). Backstrom leads the list in saves (287), shots faced (315) and minutes played (658) while ranking second in wins (3) and third in save percentage (.911).
Tonight’s game will be broadcast at 7 p.m. locally on FOX Sports North, nationally on NBC Sports Network and air on the radio on KFAN 100.3 FM.