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CARLTON PEAK – It is Stanley Cup tournament eve and I am raring for it to begin! This is the best playoff in all professional sports as far as I'm concerned.
I have been doing some reading and research the past few days to begin to build an opinion regarding how I think it will unfold, but I have noticed I am not getting the nervous energy as of yet that normally starts building before one of my teams goes into one of these events. I'm guessing that by the time I have that first cup of coffee tomorrow morning my mood and feeling will be much different than it is at this very moment.
As the morning begins I will be thinking of little else. Nervous energy will have set in, and at a level above and beyond what I would consider being my "normal." It is all good though. I understand that about sports and find it to be OK. If I didn't experience those physiological alterations from my rabid hockey viewing I'm sure I'd be asking myself why I bothered.
In assessing the chances of our Minnesota Wild I have considered the team's history and recent past. I am contemplating how the team is as it prepares to go into the tourney. And I am considering their overall chances from every angle conceivable.
The club's history does not inspire confidence. That's just being honest. In the team's 22 seasons of competition since they began they have had no Stanley Cup wins or even an appearance in a Cup Final. No Conference Championships, but they did go that far one time. (2003) No Presidents Trophy and only one Divisional title.
Tomorrow night will mark the team's 13th playoff appearance. In the previous 12, the team has won a first-round series only three times. They have only won one second-round series and nothing beyond that. In their one and only Western Conference Final appearance they were swept in four games. And the most glaring fact here is that the club has lost nine times in first-round series.
Since missing the playoff in the 2011-12 season the team has qualified every season except one. And technically speaking, in the pandemic season of 2019-20, if the tourney had not been altered due to the pandemic, the team would have missed the playoffs if not for getting into the "qualifying round." They promptly lost that five-game series three games to one to the VAN Canucks.
Since the 11-12 season the team has posted a 2-9 record in playoff series. That isn't awe-inspiring to say the least. It actually begs questions about the team and organizational culture.
On the upside, little of this has any meaning to the current team. They weren't a part of it. There is a strong chance that it isn't the 250 lb. ankle weight that they have to try to move with every skating stride and shot on goal they take. That is a good thing.
So, is this the roster that finally begins to move team history in a more positive direction and begin to construct a positive team legacy? That's up in the air.
After last year's regular season of excitement and achievement, the team suffered another first-round exit. The regular season this year has been a bit precarious at times. The team did not have a good start to the year. They didn't notch a win until game four.
To their credit they continued to work and improve. November and December represented positive forward movement. Parts of January had twin three-game losing streaks sandwiching a three-game win streak. Then the All-Star break came.
Afterward, the team played poorly. They were 1-5 out of the break. They finished February on a 6-1 heater. To begin March the team went 3-1 but a fateful night at The Peg saw the team's truest superstar, Kirill Kaprizov succumb to a lower-body injury.
The team rallied and developed a very strong defensive shutdown style of game that not only limited goals against, but saw their own scoring opportunities elevate. They finished the rest of the month 7-3 without KK#97.
April came along and the team hit a bump in the hockey road. They went 0-3 to start and lost Joel Eriksson Ek and Oskar Sundqvist to injury in a loss at PIT. Ek is presumed to be week to week with no guarantees that he would be available for any playoff action. They finished the regular season April schedule at 2-5 and were 5-5 in their L10. Kaprizov returned in a game versus STL but was scoreless. He did not suit up in the next game but did in a 3-1 loss to the Jets in St. Paul where he scored his 40th goal to become the first player in club history to notch back to back 40 goal seasons. The team dropped its final tilt in NSH 4-3 in OT on a highlight reel tally by the Preds Juuso Parssinen.
The next night in the league finale the Avs beat the Preds to win the division and set the seedings for the playoffs. There was a stretch where I felt that the WILD had a shot at the division title and that with some puck luck they might be able to squeeze into the Conference crown. The team didn't sustain its elevated play though and is now sentenced to another two versus three first-round matchup. That's where good teams go to die in the playoffs.
The end of the season stats look like this for the Wild, 23rd in GF/239, 6th in GA/219, 15th on the PP/21.4%, 10th on the PK/82.0% and they are 7th in PIMs with 925. They finished 3rd in the Central on a 46-25-11 record for 103 points. That is a .628 win pctg. They were 25-12-4 at H and 21-13-7 at A, and 5-3-2 in their L10. There is a plethora of other data available to examine, but these are the basics. So, who will do what with which to whom? For the second time in team history the WILD will meet our former team, the Dallas Stars. Statistically speaking they are better in the categories I just reviewed with the WILD. They ended up at 7th/GF, 3rd/GA, 5th/PP, 3rd/PK, and were 27th in PIMs. The teams were 2-2 in divisional tilts against each other. The games the WILD won were close, the games DAL won weren't.
Do the boys have a chance here? I like the Wild's "heavy" game and overall tough factor over the Stars. When playing with extreme discipline I like the defensive shutdown style the WILD excelled at in March over DAL. I like the WILD's tender tandem over the Stars tandem, but their Jake Oettinger might be better than either of ours.
The Stars may hold a slight edge in overall volume of upper-level talent. If they turn this into a special teams series that doesn't favor the WILD. Coach Pete DeBoer has more NHL head coaching experience than Dean Evason including the playoffs. The data doesn't favor the WILD. Come hades or high water can the WILD grit one out? Well, the springtime high water has already invaded the NorthStar state. DAL in six... PEACE