With the start of the new season approaching quickly, the Minnesota Wild are looking to build upon the success of last year. The club reached new heights last season as it qualified for the playoffs for the first time since the 2007-2008 season. Through some key free agent acquisitions and trades over the past few seasons, the Wild as an organization has made the statement that they want to win in the near future. Will this be the season where the Wild can take their game to an elite level?
The new NHL format will present the Wild with many new challenges as the club seeks to make a deeper playoff run. With all clubs making their way into Saint Paul to play the Wild this year, there will be many games for Wild fans to get excited about throughout the season. Here is my run-down of the top five must-see games that are on tap for the Wild during the regular season.
Thursday, October 3, 2013 – Los Angeles Kings at Minnesota Wild
The Wild home opener at Xcel Energy Center is always an entertaining night. The promise of a new season in the State of Hockey electrifies the crowd while it creates a fun and spirited atmosphere in Saint Paul.
This season’s opener will be against the Los Angeles Kings. The Kings came up a few games short of qualifying to play for Lord Stanley’s Cup when they were eliminated by the Chicago Blackhawks in the Western Conference Finals. Backed by the outstanding play of goaltender Jonathan Quick, the Kings have a strong core of players that will be an early test for Minnesota.
Los Angeles’ mix of players have been notoriously difficult to play against in recent years. Players like defensemen Drew Doughty and Robyn Regehr, as well as forwards Dustin Brown and Mike Richards among others play hard every game and make life miserable for the competition.
The Wild will have their hands full on opening night. This will be a fast-paced and high-energy game augmented by the energy in the building. Wild fans have been eagerly anticipating the puck drop these last few months and this game promises to be a tough battle from start to finish.
Saturday, October 26, 2013 – Minnesota Wild at Chicago Blackhawks
Minnesota’s post-season hopes ended abruptly last year at the hands of the Blackhawks. Chicago defeated the Wild four games to one in the first round of the playoffs. This matchup will be the first regular season battle between these two clubs as well as the organizations’ first game as division rivals. To make this even more interesting, the clubs will meet again two days later in Saint Paul to complete a home and home matchup.
The Blackhawks will be a very challenging division opponent for the Wild this year. Chicago has plenty of talent that is spearheaded by forwards Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews and Patrick Sharp. Chicago is poised to be among the contenders again this season as it looks to win another championship.
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The road to the playoffs will be paved by gaining an upper-hand over division opponents. This game will be an early test for the Wild. There is plenty of bad blood between these squads that manifested itself on the ice during the playoffs last year. In addition, to add fuel to the fire, Chicago won the regular season series against Minnesota last year defeating the Wild in two games and losing only once.
Sunday, November 23, 2013 – Minnesota Wild at Winnipeg Jets
The Wild play the Jets in Saint Paul on October 10th and November 17th, but this matchup marks the first time of the season that Minnesota will play in Winnipeg against this new divisional opponent. The MTS Centre is the home of the Winnipeg Jets and it is considered by many to be the loudest home building in the NHL.
Jets fans are noted for bringing consistent energy, often in the form of chants, throughout the games at MTC Centre. Chants, jeers, and boos rain down on the opposing teams and it can definitely be a factor in the games.
Wild fans will get to know the Jets fans in a new way this season with the clubs competing with each other for position in the Central Division standings. As the teams clash, any bad blood that develops will be fueled by the energy levels in both buildings. Both the MTS Centre and the Xcel Energy Center are very intimidating venues for visiting NHL clubs. With high energy levels in both buildings, this game could be a launching point for a very heated rivalry between the Wild and the Jets.
Thursday, December 19, 2013 – Minnesota Wild at Pittsburgh Penguins
The Pittsburgh Penguins have one of the most prolific offenses in the NHL. Powered by forwards Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, James Neal, Pascal Dupis and Chris Kunitz, Pittsburgh is always an exciting team to watch and the club will indeed continue the trend this season. This will also be Wild forward Matt Cooke’s first game against his former club.
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The Wild did not play the Penguins last year due to the lockout-shortened season. However, when these two clubs meet this year it will be a good litmus test to see how the Wild measure up to one of the league’s most talented teams. Pittsburgh’s cast of forwards will be a big challenge for defensemen Ryan Suter, Keith Ballard, Jonas Brodin and the rest of the Wild defense.
Many analysts pick the Penguins to finish at or near the top of the Eastern Conference this year and the organization has become a perennial contender for the Stanley Cup. The club is looking to avenge a disappointing end to last year’s post-season where they were swept in the Eastern Conference Finals by the Boston Bruins.
This game will be a highly entertaining matchup for Wild fans who will get a look at some of the NHL’s brightest stars. It will not only be fun to watch these two clubs duke it out but it will be interesting to see if the Wild can counter-act Pittsburgh’s potent offense. Wild fans will have their chance to see the Penguins live in Saint Paul when they make their trip to Xcel Energy Center on Sunday, April 5th.
Monday, March 17, 2014 – Minnesota Wild at Boston Bruins
The Boston Bruins are the defending Eastern Conference Champions. This club is an extremely physical team that will be hitting its stride by mid-March when they meet the Wild for the first time during the regular season. At this point in the season, the Bruins will likely be in the thick of a playoff race so this will be a tough matchup for the Wild.
Boston’s club plays with an edge that makes them a very difficult team to defeat. This work ethic and grit was personified by forward Patrice Bergeron in the Stanley Cup playoffs last season. Bergeron played in Game 6 of the Stanley Cup Finals with a broken rib and torn cartilage. In the game he was involved in a play where he suffered a separated shoulder. Not only did he endure this painful injury but, Bergeron also suffered a punctured lung that sent him to the hospital following the Bruins’ defeat.
This is one example of a group that puts team before self and it does so by playing with an edge that few other teams in the league can match. This will be an intense game that will be followed by a rematch in Saint Paul on April 8th, 2014. With both clubs poised to improve on last year’s success, these games will definitely take on a playoff atmosphere.
Tim joined The Hockey Writers in July 2013. He began his tenure with THW by covering the Minnesota Wild and he now writes on the Buffalo Sabres. Tim completed his undergraduate and graduate work at the University at Buffalo. In addition, he is a published historian and a Baltimore Orioles Contributing Writer for LegendsOnDeck.com. Tim’s work for THW has been featured on sites such as Yahoo.com. Follow him on Twitter @TOHockeyTHW