Jim Souhan analyzes the local sports scene and advises you to never take his betting advice. He likes old guitars and old music, never eats press box hot dogs, and can be heard on 1500ESPN at 2:05 p.m. weekdays, and Sundays from 10 a.m.-noon.
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Let's not waste any time. Here are the biggest issues facing the Wild:
-Mike Yeo's contract
He's underpaid and his contract is up. He proved himself over the last two months. I say he should get a three-year deal that places him in the upper-half of NHL coaching salaries.
Thomas Vanek has been rumored to end up with the Wild for years, and for good reason, but he's not exactly performing like a scoring star right now, and the Wild have a bunch of good young players coming along, and I'm not sure you tie up all of your money in Vanek at this point. It would be a popular but destructive move.
Because Ilya Bryzgalov played better than expected during this series, I can understand fans wanting him back. But he's not a long-term solution, and he may not even be a good short-term solution. He was terrible down the stretch and got benched for good reason during the Colorado series. I want someone more reliable. The Wild will have to decide whether Kuemper is a full-time starter, someone who should split time, or a backup. If he's not a full-time starter, this is where you invest.
The Wild could use a big, physical defenseman, but Clayton Stoner and Marco Scandella both had excellent stretches in the playoffs. This is another area where you could throw money at a problem, but the best solutions might come from within.
Just as Jason Pominville and Matt Moulson weren't magical solutions, the next free-agent the Wild signs probably won't be either. This team will progress based on the development of Kuemper, Erik Haula, Nino Niederreiter, Charlie Coyle, Mikael Granlund, Jonas Brodin, Stoner and Scandella.
Remember, few of those players have put together a full, impressive, NHL season. They will all have to learn how to grind through a long season and play well when other teams are game-planning for them.
But the talent is there, and Yeo's system gives this team a chance to win even when it's not scoring.
There should be better days ahead, but in the Western Conference, imporvement will be needed just to compete for home ice in a playoff series.
``I thought we were as good as anyone,'' Zach Parise said.
Not quite. There's no rational reason to believe the Wild would have won at Chicago in a Game 7. But at least this team has progressed to the point where it can dream.
I'll be on 1500ESPN in the Twin Cities at 12:15ish tomorrow to discuss this great game, and the Twins' walk-off. My Twitter handle is @Souhanstrib.
Some things jump off the statistical sheet:
-You might be surprised at who leads the Wild in hits. It's Nino Niederreiter, with 37. That speaks well of his ability to be a skilled offensive player as well as a strong forechecker. He is learning to use his size. He also leads the wild with two game-winning goals this postseason.
-Bryan Bickell leads the Blackhawks with 45 hits. He also leads both teams in goals this postseason, with six.
-Chicago star Jonathan Toews leads both teams with four game-winning goals this postseason.
-Befitting his reputation as a volume shooter, Zach Parise leads both teams with 47 shots in the postseason. Mikael Granlund is second on the Wild with 31, and Marian Hossa leads Chicago with 43.
-Bickell and Parise are the only players in this series with more than one power-play goal in the postseason. Both have two.
-Wild defenseman Clayton Stoner leads both teams with 26 postseason penalty minutes.
-Stat the night: Since they've played together, Toews and Patrick Kane are 13-0 in playoff series games after the series has been tied 2-2.
-The Wild is trying to become the first NHL team to force consecutive Games 7 in the same postseason without holding a lead in either series since the Islanders in 1987.
I'll be on WJON in St. Cloud at 7:15 and on 1500ESPN in the Twin Cities at 12:15ish tomorrow and the rest of the week. My Twitter handle is @Souhanstrib.
Everybody seems to be making picks for Game 6, and those on my staff seem to be picking the Wild.
If you were silly enough to bet on sports, wouldn't you go that way, too?
The Wild have played 12 playoff games this season. In those 12 games, the road team has not won in regulation once. The only road victory in those 12 games occured when the Wild won in overtime at Colorado, long after establishing that Minnesota was the superior team.
So, yes, if you're going to pick a winner based on logic, you'd pick the Wild to win Game 6.
And the Blackhawks to win Game 7.
Quick hits following the Wild’s 2-1 loss to Chicago on Sunday night at United Center:
-Jonas Brodin has played very soft during these playoffs. His hooking penalty led to the Blackhawks’ first goal. Even discarding that, he has not been strong enough with the puck or in the corners.
-Who knew that Cody McCormick would be the more valuable player in the playoffs when the Wild traded for Matt Moulson and him? McCormick played an aggressive, active game Sunday.
-Typical game from New Bryz: Ilya Bryzgalov played well throughout…yet almost let a shot in from the red line when he didn’t seem to be paying attention.
-When the game ended, Blackhawks defenseman Johnny Oduya and a couple of his teammates got into it with Nino Niederreiter, Dany Heatley and Kyle Brodziak.
-Wild coach Mike Yeo said he had those three, along with Charlie Coyle, Jared Spurgeon and Marco Scandella, on the ice because his more prominent veterans were tired, and because he wanted Heatley in front of the net. Seems strange not to have Zach Parise out there, even if he's tired.
-Erik Haula’s goal was spectacular. You know who he beat along the way? Patrick ``Showtime’’ Kane. Norris Trophy finalist Duncan Keith. Standout defenseman Brent Seabrook. Cup-winning goalie Corey Crawford. Not bad for a seventh-round draft pick from the U.
-Mikko Koivu has been a defensive force during this series, but he has one point in five games, and he didn’t manage a shot on Sunday.
-The Blackhawks haven’t lost a playoff game after a series has been tied 2-2 with Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane on the roster. They are 13-0 in Games 5 and 6 in such series. (Credit Chicago Sun-Times)
If you squint enough, and forget enough of the recent past, and focus on the last two games, you can see Ilya Bryzgalov imitating a playoff goalie.
As they prepare to drop the puck in Game 5, Bryzgalov, in the first four games of this series, is 2-2 with a 2.26 goals-against average.
Now, his save percentage is a mediocre .889. so he’s not exactly inspiring confidence, but he isn’t the flopping mess he so often looked to be in the Colorado series.
Corey Crawford, who has looked increasingly shaky, is 2-2 with a 2.53 goals-against average and a .899 save percentage.
Through four games, this is not the mismatch it was considered to be going in.
Bryzgalov has benefited from the Wild’s effective defense, but also his team’s ability to hold the puck in the offensive end for long stretches.
``That’s the best way to play defense,’’ said Wild forward Zach Parise.
In Round 1, I think the series turned in the Wild's favor when coach Mike Yeo didn't panic over bad calls in Game 5. HIs team remained composed and won the next two games.
In Round 2, the series turned, at least momentarily, when Yeo defended Bryzgalov after his poor performance in Game 2, saying ``This is our guy.'' Bryzgalov has played better since, although he has played better in part because of the Wild's improved play at home.
Michael Russo and I will have plenty of coverage in the paper tomorrow, plus a video and blog posts. I’ll be on WJON in St. Cloud at 7:15 a.m., and on 1500ESPN in the Twin Cities at 12:15 tomorrow. Please follow me on Twitter at @Souhanstrib.
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