Two vastly different opponents have seen produced the same result against the Minnesota Wild through 5 games.
The Colorado Avalanche stole Game 5 of the Avs-Wild Western Conference Quarterfinal, and took a 3-2 series lead, forcing the Wild to have to win two games, including a Game 7 on the road, to advance in the postseason.
The Wild did just that, with an explosion from Zach Parise in Game 6, followed by a strong showing by the Wild's depth in Game 7.
After a fairly even first period that saw the Wild, a switch was flipped in the second period. Maybe the Wild stopped playing their game because they lost focus. Maybe the Blackhawks finally realized they were the Blackhawks. Regardless of why it happened, the second period was massively lop-sided, as the Blackhawks peppered the Wild to the tune of 15 shots (to the Wild's 6), scoring a goal to tie the game. Jonathan Toews would score the go-ahead goal to send the Wild home down 3-2.
The good news is that the Wild are undefeated in 5 home games, including a Game 4 where the Wild took it to the Blackhawks, dominating them throughout the game like they were the superior team. It would be a tad surprising if they lost Game 6 and didn't force a Game 7, based on their home play this postseason.
So what do the Wild have to do to win a Game 7, should their hot streak at home continue?
The Big Guns Need to Step Up
It was a big talking point earlier in the series, but this series, the even when the Blackhawks played poorly, they managed to take the Wild's best players out of the game. So far in this series, the Blackhawks have held Zach Parise to just one goal, and three assists, Ryan Suter to three assists, and Mikko Koivu to one assist. While there are possibly issues of injury, fatigue, tough competition, and luck going on, these factors are present with just about every team. Unfortunately, in the postseason you don't get the luxury of your luck evening out, or to rest when hurt.
The good news is that with these players mostly quiet, the Wild have managed to win two games. But to win two more, the Wild are probably going to need one of their star, face-of-the-franchise players to shine, taking the burden off the Wild's depth to win.
Convert on Special Teams
The Wild have actually done a pretty good job of staying out of the box overall. Since Game 2, the Wild have only given the Blackhawks 7 power plays, playing a disciplined game in general. One could probably complain that last night's two penalties were pretty needless, but you're going to get called for something or another in a playoff game.
The Blackhawks were clearly trying to get under the Wild's skin last night, and they were playing a chippier brand of hockey than we've seen from them thus far. But all that elevated tough play from the Blackhawks netted them just one power play on the night, showing Chicago kept it within the rules. The Wild need to not react, and do what they can to draw penalties.
And the power play? It's gone 2-of-14 on the series. Not a good number.
Bryz Needs to Maintain
After starting the series on shaky ground, Bryzgalov has rebounded in the series, earning (relative) confidence from Wild fans. Obviously, a hot goalie does wonders for a hockey team, and the Wild are going to need to see continued good play from Bryz.
The Wild Need to Optimize their Lineup
If you follow me, or Ger Devine on Twitter, you'll be familiar with the hashtag #FreeBlum.
We've spoken about Jonathon Blum often in this postseason. He's a third-pairing defenseman who offers the Wild some puck-moving skills from the third line, something that the Wild have been able to kinda-sorta create the illusion of with extremely soft minutes for Clayton Stoner and Nate Prosser.
Blum's return doesn't fix all of the team's flaws, but it does offer them a chance to be in the offensive zone more when Yeo puts his third pairing and fourth line out at the same time. 10 minutes of a little extra mobility could work wonders for the Wild.
And also, if Matt Moulson is healthy for Game 6, the Wild can't afford to fool around with their deadline acquisition. His shooting and puck-possession were sorely missed in Game 5. It's a do-or-die situation, there's nothing to be gained by leaving a 30-goal scorer on the bench.
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