The Wild’s season-long goalie carousel has spun back to the enigmatic Russian. After giving up eight goals in Games 1 and 2 of the first round, Bryzgalov took a back seat to Darcy Kuemper until the rookie goalie was injured in Game 7 to Colorado. Bryzgalov entered with 8:13 left in the third, didn’t face a shot and had to make only one in overtime to get the victory. Bryzgalov became the first goalie in Wild history to get a point in his first 10 starts (7-0-3) and is 8-6-5 career vs. the Blackhawks with a 2.51 goals-against average.
In last year’s Game 1 against the Blackhawks, Suter topped 40-plus minutes and will again be the Wild’s top shutdown defenseman against the Blackhawks’ high-powered attack. He had an up-and-down series against Colorado, but that’s to be expected when you’re the guy tasked with playing all the big minutes vs. all the top players. In Game 7, he made the defensive play of the series by dropping to stop Paul Stastny’s point-blank possibility.
Mikko Koivu and Zach Parise
In last year’s opening round against Chicago, Koivu had no points in five games and was minus-6. Parise had one goal, no assists and was minus-7. The Wild will need better performances this time if the Wild wants to upset the defending Cup champs. So far, so good this postseason. Parise is tied for the league lead with 10 points and Koivu is second on the Wild with six. They’re likely to open the series on separate lines after playing together all series vs. Chicago last year.
must step up
The Wild’s leading goal scorer in the regular season with 30 had a disappointing first round. He scored one empty-net goal, and although he assisted on four goals, he was missing in action too many times. He had some turnovers and didn’t seem to play with jump. Pominville had exceptional chemistry with Mikael Granlund during the regular season and he needs to quickly rekindle that magic.
The Wild’s offense broke out in the first round. It averaged 3.14 goals per game after scoring 2.43 goals during the regular season (24th in the NHL). It averaged 33.3 shots per game in the first round as opposed to 26.6 (29th in the NHL) during the regular season. Charlie Coyle and Parise lead with three goals each.
The seventh-best team in terms of goals against (2.42 per game) and fifth best in terms of shots against (27.7 per game) during the regular season gave up 2.86 goals per game and a league-best 24.9 shots per game in the first round. The blue line got much better as the series matured. Suter and Spurgeon were reunited in Game 7 after starting the series together, as was Scandella and Jonas Brodin.
Amazingly, the Wild is back where it started. Darcy Kuemper wasn’t ready for Round 1 after missing the final seven games of the regular season because of a concussion. He looked like he suffered a relapse in Game 7 and is now on the sideline again after winning Games 3, 4 and 6 for the Wild against Colorado. Now, the Wild must rely on Bryzgalov again. He was shaky in his final couple regular-season starts and the first two playoff games. Bryzgalov, who won a Stanley Cup as Anaheim’s backup in 2007, has playoff experience with 41 games, but he’s been at the controls of a few playoff flops.
That first-round victory almost assures that it’s just a matter of time before General Manager Chuck Fletcher re-signs the coaching staff of head coach Mike Yeo, assistants Rick Wilson, Darryl Sydor and Darby Hendrickson and goalie coach Bob Mason. The staff did a tremendous job with adjustments throughout the first round, and Yeo’s lineup moves and in-game adjustments all worked out.
The Wild’s penalty kill ranked 27th during the regular season. In the first round, Minnesota killed 88 percent of Colorado’s power plays and must continue that in the second round against the dangerous Blackhawks. The Wild’s power play must improve. Not only did it convert only 14.3 of its first-round power plays, it also surrendered two shorthanded goals. Chicago had the NHL’s best first-round penalty kill (93.1 percent).
Zach Parise-Mikael Granlund-Jason Pominville
Matt Moulson-Mikko Koivu-Charlie Coyle
Nino Niederreiter-Kyle Brodziak-Dany Heatley
Stephane Veilleux-Erik Haula-Cody McCormick
Ryan Suter-Jared Spurgeon
Marco Scandella-Jonas Brodin
Clayton Stoner-Nate Prosser
Extras: Forwards Matt Cooke (suspended until Game 4), Justin Fontaine, Mike Rupp. Defensemen Jon Blum, Keith Ballard.
Injuries: G Darcy Kuemper (upper body) and G Josh Harding (multiple sclerosis) are day-to-day. G Niklas Backstrom (abdominal surgery) and LW Jason Zucker (quad) are out.