Bluntly, the positional goalie must stand and deliver. The Avs are loaded with firepower, so he is going to have to make some big stops. Other than the regular-season finale, Bryzgalov has been brilliant since taking the No. 1 reins from the injured Darcy Kuemper. He became the first goalie in Wild history to get a point in his first 10 starts (7-0-3). His best stretches throughout his career have come while playing behind sound defensively-structured teams. When his teams get loose defensively, it’s been disastrous.
ø Ryan Suter
He might need an oxygen mask attached to the bench in the Mile High City. The NHL’s time-on-ice leader by almost 2 ½ minutes (29:24 per game) will be tossed over the boards by assistant coach Rick Wilson over and over … and over again. In Game 1 last year vs. Chicago, Suter logged more than 41 minutes. The Wild’s No. 1 defenseman in every facet of the game will be critical to his team’s success against the Avs’ prolific shooters.
Mikko Koivu Ø
The Wild’s all-time leading scorer has scored 15 goals against the Avs, including a tying goal with six seconds left this season that led to a shootout victory. But no Wild forward gets more ice time than Koivu and plays in more big situations, and last year he went scoreless in the playoffs. Koivu wears the captain’s ‘‘C,’’ so the pressure is on.
must step up
ø Kyle Brodziak
The much-maligned third-line center had a miserable eight-goal season offensively, but he did his job defensively (an even plus-minus rating). He’ll need to do his job this series. Coach Mike Yeo plans to use his checking line, which includes Matt Cooke, often against dominant Avalanche forwards like Nathan MacKinnon. It’ll be incumbent on this line to get pucks deep and “defend” in the offensive zone. If Brodziak can chip in offensively, that’ll be a bonus.
breaking it down
The Wild ranked 24th in goals for (2.43 goals per game) and 29th in shots per game (26.6), although since going 23-10-7 since Jan. 2, it improved both. Like Koivu, much pressure will be on Zach Parise (29 goals), who scored one goal in last year’s playoffs. First-line right winger Charlie Coyle (12 goals) entered the playoffs playing his best hockey of the season, and a lot will be asked of the second line. If Yeo plays his cards right, he could get some mismatches with Jason Pominville (30 goals), Matt Moulson and Mikael Granlund, who is expected to return from injury. It’ll be imperative to get pucks deep and go on the forecheck. Trading chances with Colorado is not a recipe for success.
The seventh-best in terms of goals against (2.42 per game) and fifth-best in terms of shots against (27.7 per game) will have to be stingy. The top two pairs will be leaned on heavily. Suter and partner Jared Spurgeon, who has had a combination of brilliant and nightmarish games in Denver, will be the shutdown pair. The often-overshadowed Marco Scandella had a strong season. Jonas Brodin has largely been up and down. Clayton Stoner, the Wild’s most physical defenseman, should play a big role.
It’s remarkable the Wild finished with the NHL’s 11th-best record considering Niklas Backstrom, Josh Harding, Kuemper and Bryzgalov all have held the No. 1 role at different parts of the season. Bryzgalov has playoff experience with 38 games, but he has been at the controls of a few playoff flops. The Wild better hope the rug doesn’t get pulled from under Bryzgalov’s mastery since his March 4 acquisition from Edmonton.
The three men that stand behind Minnesota’s bench have all won Stanley Cups — Yeo and Wilson as assistants, Darryl Sydor as a player. They’re also all in the final years of their contracts, so a quick one-and-out might not sit well with owner Craig Leipold. Still, they have done a solid job all second half, particularly managing through an erratic goalie situation thanks to an impressive defensive system.
The Wild’s 16th-ranked power play has been up and down but is led by Parise, who finished fourth in the NHL with 14 power-play goals. The top unit of Parise-Koivu-Coyle-Suter-Pominville will be relied upon heavily because the second unit has provided little output all second half. The Wild’s 27th-ranked penalty kill, which was lousy from start to finish this season, better be good against the Avs’ formidable power play, or it can be lights out.
by the numbers
31-6-5 The Wild’s record when scoring first
27-1-4 The Wild’s record leading after two periods
21 Points gained by the Wild when trailing after two periods (second in the NHL)
Zach Parise-Mikko Koivu-Charlie Coyle
Matt Moulson-Mikael Granlund-Jason Pominville
Matt Cooke-Kyle Brodziak-Nino Niederreiter
Stephane Veilleux-Erik Haula-Cody McCormick
Ryan Suter-Jared Spurgeon
Marco Scandella-Jonas Brodin
Clayton Stoner-Nate Prosser
Extra forwards: Dany Heatley, Justin Fontaine
Extra defensemen: Jon Blum, Keith Ballard.
Injuries: Kuemper (upper body), Ballard (groin) and G Josh Harding (MS) are day-to-day. LW Mike Rupp is suspended for Games 1-3. G Niklas Backstrom (abdominal surgery) and LW Jason Zucker (quadriceps) are out.