Because of brutal deadlines (I hope none of you had to ready the first version of my deadline column), I wrote an early column about the Wild's budding rivalry with Colorado. Even more relevant now, after a great Game 7 in Denver...
We celebrate the arrival of a Game 7 in hockey because it promises a momentous ending to an escalation of drama and cultivated hatred.
The Wild’s first Game 7 in 11 years offers more: A glimpse into a future of renewed hostilities.
In the summer of 2012, Wild owner Craig Leipold signed Zach Parise and Ryan Suter to create these kinds of moments. With Parise and Suter locked into 10-year contracts with eight years remaining, and young players like Mikael Granlund and Charlie Coyle maturing before our eyes, Wednesday’s Game 7 against Colorado promises to be the first of many against the young lions of the new NHL Central division.
``I think it’s two teams that are definitely going in the right direction, with a lot of really good young players,’’ Parise said. ``There are going to be a lot of good games between the teams in the next little while.’’
The Wild is set up to win, with a host of young players filling in around its stars. The Avalanche features some of the best young players in hockey, including the irrepressible Nathan MacKinnon.
The Chicago Blackhawks, who are awaiting the winner of the Wild-Avalanche Game 7, are remarkably young for such an accomplished group. And the St. Louis Blues looked like the worst possible playoff matchup for the Wild before the Blues suffered injuries and fell to the Blackhawks in the first round after winning the first two games.
The arrival of Parise and Suter alone might have made the Wild dangerous in the Eastern Conference. In the Western Conference, and particularly in the Central division, they will need lots of help to survive these budding rivalries.
``I think we’ve done well from where this team was three years ago, to last year making the playoffs, to this year,’’ Suter said. ``We’ve gone through a lot of adversity, and to have the resilience to continue to battle…We were out of the playoffs and we battled back into it.
``This series, when you lose two games on the road to start, and you come back and win two at home, then lose a tough one and push it to a Game 7, those are the growing things for an organization. It’s trending in the right direction.’’
After a slump-ridden season, Coyle has scored three playoff goals _ two more than he scored between Jan. 12 and March 22.
After a slow start to the season, Granlund has impressed in the Olympics, down the stretch of the regular season, and in the playoffs, where he has produced four points, a spectacular game-winning goal and a surprising tough streak on defense and around the boards.
MacKinnon, the 18-year-old wunderkind, has matched Parise with 10 playoff points,and 21-year-old Gabriel Landeskog has produced four points and developed a feud with Minnesota captain Mikko Koivu.
``When you’re playing in games that mean this much and you’re playing the roles that they have, once you get a taste of it, you want to make sure that you’re always giving yourself a chance to get back there,’’ Wild coach Mike Yeo said of his young players. ``Most importantly, to learn how to go out and perform and enjoy these moments, that’s real important for our group.’’
The teams have played 10 times this season. Seven have been decided by one goal, and five have gone to overtime.
``I believe that we’re not going away and I know that they’re not going away, too,’’ Wild coach Mike Yeo said. ``This is a very skilled team that we’re playing against, and they’ve got a lot of youth over there. You can see that the two teams have a lot of similarilies, in a lot of ways - in the way they count on their young players, and the steps that they’ve taken.
``I would expect that, the way our division is lined up and with how important every division game is, how close every game was that we played against these guys ever year, it’s a budding rivalry, that’s for sure.’’
Mike Russo and I are traveling from Denver to Chicago to cover Games 1 and 2 against the Blackhawks.
I'll be on WJON in St. Cloud at 7:15, and on 1500ESPN in the Twin Cities at 12:15 or so.