The road to offensive success in the postseason can best be described as a hierarchy. At the base lies the most basic necessity: veteran production. These are the guys that have experienced the chaos of postseason play and are expected to be the backbone of a Stanley Cup run. One step up sits the blooming youngsters. Most are pretty green when it comes to playoff hockey but their success in the regular season leads to some new found expectations when the games really count. The third stage consists of the role players. This is where you’ll find your 3rd and 4th line checkers. No one anticipates their name being on the scoreboard but when they do contribute something is going right. Last but not least, the pinnacle of the hierarchy, is set aside for the breakout performers. This stage tends to be fulfilled by a player that has transcended their specific stage, thus becoming something entirely different in the process.
The Minnesota Wild have been an organization that has historically fallen short when it comes to finding the back of the net. For them the idea of moving past stage one in the hierarchy would be a dream come true. Well that dream has somehow become a reality this postseason. For the first time forever they are climbing the hierarchy, and here is how they are doing it.
The quartet of veterans entered the 2014 postseason with something to prove. In 2013 they were welcomed back to playoff hockey with a five game thrashing at the hands of the eventual Stanley Cup champs, the Chicago Blackhawks. How bad was the thrashing? So bad that four veterans could only muster a single point amongst them in the five games. That’s not the kind of production you would expect from a group with a collective cap hit of $27 million.
Luckily history hasn’t repeated itself in 2014. In 11 games the veteran quartet has combined for 8 goals and 29 assists. Parise, the lone point producer from 2013, already has 14 points (four goals, 10 assists) this postseason which ranks him 2nd in postseason scoring. Meanwhile, each of the other three have accumulated at least seven points.
The regular season was a coronation of sorts for these three kids. Granlund transformed into the playmaking center he was envisioned to be, Coyle solidified himself as a top-six NHL forward and Niederreiter cemented everyone’s belief that Garth Snow is a horrendous GM.
The only problem was that between the three of them they had five games of postseason experience (Coyle had all of them). How did they react to added intensity? Pretty dang well. Granlund and Coyle are both sitting at seven points through 11 games while Niederreiter is a hair behind them at six. More importantly than the point total is the game winning goal tally that they are putting up. Granlund and Niederreiter have bagged themselves game winners in OT (Niederreiter’s was actually a series clincher) but Nino’s snipe in game four against Chicago gives him the team lead with two,
All three of these players have limitations. Heatley appears to have lost the ability to skate faster than a brisk walking pace, Brodziak is incapable of hitting the net on purpose and Haula is a slithery rookie who can’t seem to convert on a breakaway. Yet, even with these limitations, they have been some of the biggest performers in the postseason.
Take game seven against Colorado as a prime example. Both Heatley and Brodziak had been scratched earlier on in the series. Yet in game seven they found themselves on the ice and out-produced their star counterparts, posting three points each. Haula on the other hand has been a driving force in the Chicago series. He’s recorded a point in three out of the four games and his goal in game three wound up being the game winner.
Consists of: To be determined
At this point in the postseason it’s hard to claim that anyone has been the breakout star. There are some obvious possibilities, such as Parise and his 14 points or Niederreiter and his two game-winning goals. Although those performances put them on a trajectory towards the breakout star status it’s just too early to tell.
Chances are if we are going to see someone reach the pinnacle it’s going to happen during the Chicago series. With it tied up 2-2 it’s going to take a special performance to get by the defending champs. And whichever player accomplishes that feat will be etched into Minnesota hockey lore for life.