Back in January, the Minnesota Wild had a less than 10 percent chance of making the playoffs. Now in April, the Wild has just eliminated the top team in the Central division and is moving on to Round 2 of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
I never thought I’d write those words back at the beginning of the season, but somehow Minnesota has managed to do the impossible. Many people still seem to think the Wild don’t stand a chance against the Chicago Blackhawks in the conference semifinals, but this team has already done the impossible once. Here are three reasons Minnesota will do it again and beat the Blackhawks in Round 2.
The Minnesota Wild wouldn’t be anywhere near the playoffs had it not been for the arrival of Devan Dubnyk. The often-traded goaltender saved the Wild’s season and was a huge part of Minnesota’s success in Round 1.
In his first appearance in the playoffs, Dubnyk was unfazed by the post-season atmosphere. In the first round, the Vezina-nominee posted one shutout, a .913 save percentage and 2.32 GAA. Although these stats weren’t as impressive as his regular season numbers, they were more than enough to help carry the Wild into Round 2.
Dubnyk has confidence right now. He knows he’s one of the best goaltenders in the playoffs, and he’s playing behind one of the best teams in the league. After his performance in Round 1, I just don’t see anything throwing Dubnyk off his game.
Since acquiring Dubnyk, Minnesota has played Chicago twice and won both games. In both of those games combined, Dubnyk only allowed one goal. The Blackhawks might look like a challenge for the Wild, but with Dubnyk in net, Minnesota has more than a good chance to eliminate Chicago. Goaltending is one of the biggest factors in determining whether a team wins of loses; Chicago has had shaky goaltending while Minnesota has had stellar goaltending.
Advantage: Minnesota Wild.
2. Third time’s a charm
As they say, third time’s a charm. The Minnesota Wild are clearly working to prove this phrase is true.
For the past three seasons, the Wild have made the playoffs. For the past two, they’ve been eliminated by the Chicago Blackhawks. The past means nothing when it comes to this series. This is the year things change.
“They’re coming in hot. They’re playing great hockey. They just beat a really, really good team. Obviously, (people) want to say that we’ve beat them the last two years, but I don’t think there’s any favorite in this series,” – Jonathan Toews, Chicago Tribune
Minnesota is a far better team this year than it has been in the past two. It’s not a fluke or a lucky break that the Wild made it to the second round. These guys have played like a Stanley Cup-contending team for the past two months, and I don’t see them stopping any time soon.
With offense coming from a multitude of players like Jason Zucker, Zach Parise, Marco Scandella and Jason Pominville, and solid defense from Matt Dumba, Ryan Suter and Jared Spurgeon, the Minnesota Wild looks set to change the ways of the past.
3. On the road
For most teams, playing on the road isn’t the greatest experience, especially during the playoffs. For the Wild, playing on the road is like a gift.
Toward the end of the regular season, the Minnesota Wild went on a streak, winning 12 games on the road and tying an NHL record. Minnesota’s ability to triumph away from the X didn’t stop in the playoffs. In the first round against the Blues, Minnesota won two out of the three games it played in St. Louis. These two wins were crucial to moving on to the second round.
This season is much different from last.
In the first round of the playoffs last year, Minnesota lost three of four road games to the Colorado Avalanche, winning only Game 7 at the Pepsi Center.
In Round 2, Minnesota lost all three games it played at the United Center. The Wild won two of three games played in St. Paul, but the team’s inability to win on the road was a huge reason for the its downfall in the semifinals.
This year, the Minnesota Wild seem to have fixed this problem. The Wild has had immense success playing on the road, with a better regular season away record than home record. This change from last season will be a huge asset to Minnesota in Round 2.
The Wild is a completely different team this year than it was last year. Chicago has eliminated Minnesota two years in a row now, but this year, the Wild are far from the same team the Hawks eliminated in six games.
This team is better in every way and has a real chance at making it to Round 3.
Alli covers the Minnesota Wild and has been a contributing writer with THW since August 2014. She is currently a journalism and sports management student at the University of Minnesota. For all of your Minnesota Wild news and updates, follow her on twitter: @allibaker23