Drowned out by the thunderous music of a victorious locker room in Denver, Ryan Suter had to yell to be heard after the Wild beat Colorado to secure the NHL’s final playoff spot Saturday night.
There was a certain irony to it.
Suter was trying at least to talk about the Madhouse on Madison and how absolutely raucous it will be when more than 21,000 rabid fans overstuff United Center to watch the Chicago Blackhawks take on the Wild in the first round of the playoffs beginning Tuesday night.
The atmosphere will be like nothing many Wild players have experienced.
There’s the fantastic game ops, the sweet tunes of the coolest organist on the planet, Frank Pellico, and the booming pipes of Jim Cornelison, who causes the building to shake with his goose bump-triggering rendition of “The Star-Spangled Banner.”
As if the Wild doesn’t have enough on its hands with the mighty Blackhawks, the decibel meter alone might burst some eardrums.
“The building, it’s so loud,” said Suter, the only Wild defenseman besides seldom-used Brett Clark with postseason experience. “I’ve played in the playoffs in Chicago before. I mean, the anthem, the crowd. It’s nuts to say the least.”
As Wild coach Mike Yeo and his staff spent Sunday sequestered inside Xcel Energy Center preparing for the arduous task of upsetting the Blackhawks, Wild players got the day off to bask in the satisfaction of making the playoffs and rest up for Monday’s practice.
The Wild stumbled down the stretch, and Friday’s home loss to Edmonton proved especially costly when San Jose wound up losing to Los Angeles on Saturday night. That meant if the Wild had simply beaten the Oilers, the Wild would have gotten the sixth seed and faced the Vancouver Canucks.
Instead, the Wild drew eighth and now faces this challenge: Somehow find a way to win four times in seven games against a Stanley Cup favorite that lost only seven times in regulation. In the past 15 meetings, the Wild has defeated Chicago five times — once in regulation.
“I do think that we shift to a bit of an underdog role,” coach Mike Yeo said in the understatement of the century. “As far as we’re concerned, we believe that we’re capable.”
The Blackhawks, who ran away with the West, led the conference by scoring 3.1 goals per game. They surrendered a league-low 2.02 goals per game. When they scored first, they were nearing unbeatable, going a league-best 26-2-1 (.897).
They were equally good home and away, going 18-3-3 at home and 18-4-2 on the road.
“They have a great team,” Suter said. “They have a lot of skilled players. They have four solid lines, defense is solid, goaltending is solid. It’ll be a challenge, but in the playoffs, anything can happen.”
The Blackhawks went the first half of the 48-game season without a regulation loss. The Wild, 1-2 against the Blackhawks, was the first team to hand them a blemish — a shootout loss in their seventh game.
Zach Parise, who led the Wild with 18 goals and 38 points, believes the Wild gave the Blackhawks a good game in a 1-0 loss April 9.
“They’re a puck possession team,” Parise said. “They don’t give you a lot of chances, so we’ll have to make sure we’re smart without the puck because they have a lot of guys that can put the puck in the net.”
Parise said because the Blackhawks have so many weapons, such as Western Conference scoring leader Patrick Kane, captain Jonathan Toews, two-way star Marian Hossa, sharpshooter Patrick Sharp and Calder Trophy contender Brandon Saad, they don’t get enough credit for their defensive play.
It starts with arguably the deepest blue line in the NHL, led by Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook.
“The way they play, they play the way Detroit played when they had [Nicklas] Lidstrom and [Brian] Rafalski back there, where you feel like you go the whole game without touching the puck,” Parise said. “So we’ll have to be patient and wait for our chances.”
It will take a committed effort from the Wild, which has proved to be successful when it follows Yeo’s system, gets pucks deep and goes to work.
In maybe the first bulletin-board material of the series, Kane offered this honest yet true assessment of a Wild team that went 5-8-1 in April, and 1-5-1 in its last seven home games.
“When they play like they want to, they can score four or five goals a night and keep it out of their net with maybe one of the best defenseman in the league [in Suter],” Kane told the Chicago Tribune.
“It’s a dangerous team. You definitely have to be careful with them. They’re a team that I’ve watched throughout the year, and it seems like one night they look like the best team in the NHL and the next night they look like they don’t even want to be out there.”