Colorado-Wild playoff matchup offers contrast in styles

  • Article by: MICHAEL RUSSO , Star Tribune
  • Updated: April 16, 2014 - 8:21 AM

First-round foes feature styles much like they had in 2003.

The Colorado Avalanche and Wild have returned to their identities of yesteryear.

Back when Patrick Roy was backstopping the Avs to two Stanley Cups, they were an explosive, in-your-face, intimidating juggernaut.

When the Hall of Famer became the team’s rookie coach last summer, Roy said he wanted to take advantage of the team’s impressive speed and skill by getting back to playing the way the Avalanche did once upon a time.

Similarly, when Hall of Fame coach Jacques Lemaire guided the Wild for seven seasons, Minnesota was one of the stingiest, most disciplined teams in the NHL. That was especially highlighted when the Wild upset Roy and Colorado in the 2003 playoffs en route to a shocking run to the Western Conference finals.

Mike Yeo has made defense the Wild’s bread and butter once again. Thursday night, when first round of the playoffs open between the Avalanche and Wild, it will be a battle of the West’s third-best offense vs. fourth-best defense.

“That’s probably the biggest test for us,” Yeo said. “The style of the two teams is not the same. Are we going to go out and control the game and play it in the manner that we want to play it or are we lured into the way they want to play the game?”

The Central Division champion Avalanche, which finished 29th in the NHL last year, became the first team since the league expanded to 21 teams in 1979 to go from the bottom three to the top three in a single season.

A giant reason is Colorado’s depth up front. From dynamic 18-year-old Nathan MacKinnon, the No. 1 pick in the 2013 draft, to captain Gabriel Landeskog to two-way horse Ryan O’Reilly, the Avalanche salivate during frenetic games.

The Avalanche will try its best to cajole the Wild into that up-and-down, trade chance-for-chance game. The Wild isn’t skilled or fast enough to get into a track meet. Yeo wants the Wild to avoid high-risk plays and manage the puck well.

“No turnovers,” Zach Parise answered when asked the biggest key to beating Colorado. “You say that about a lot of teams, but especially these guys. They’re probably one of the best transition teams. Their group of forwards, [there’s] some unbelievable skill that they’ve got up front.

“You never want to give them any free chances, free opportunities.”

Forechecking plan

The Wild must limit turnovers at both blue lines, get pucks deep and put the Avalanche’s young and inexperienced defensemen in, as Parise said, “uncomfortable spots.”

“When we do that, we’re a pretty good team,” Parise said. “When we don’t do that, when we don’t skate, we allow the other team to come through us pretty easily.”

One line that Yeo hopes helps the Wild dictate its game is the Matt Cooke-Kyle Brodziak-Nino Niederreiter line. Not only will that trio be asked to shut down Colorado’s more prolific forwards (especially when Yeo can get preferred matchups at home), it will be asked to set the tone on the forecheck.

That line has had strong games in Colorado this season.

“When we’re talking about the grind of a playoff series, we want to make sure that every opportunity there is to finish a check, to make it hard on their skilled guys, on their defensemen, to let them know that we’re coming, those guys are going to have to be leaders in that regard,” Yeo said. “Plus, they have the ability to create and be strong in the offensive zone.

“We need them to be a tough line to play against.”

Production issues

Scoring goals always is a chore for the Wild, and that was especially true in last year’s playoffs when the Wild scored seven times in five games vs. eventual champion Chicago.

“Last year, we just didn’t have the puck. Let’s be honest. We never had the puck,” Parise said. “It’s tough to score when you’re chasing it all game.”

But Parise added, “We have more proven scorers on the roster than we did last year.”

Skilled playmaker Mikael Granlund is expected to return from a head injury and make his playoff debut between veteran scorers Matt Moulson and Jason Pominville. The Parise-Mikko Koivu-Charlie Coyle line was terrific down the stretch.

The one area where the Wild has the edge is playoff experience.

Judging by Colorado’s lineup in at least Tuesday’s practice, seven forwards and five defensemen might make their playoff debuts Thursday night.

“Whenever you do something, the more you do it, the more comfortable you feel, just like driving your car or riding a bike,” said Wild defenseman Ryan Suter, who has played 44 playoff games. “The more you do it, the better you get at it.”

 

  • related content

  • Video: Wild Minute: Facing a beaten-up Avs blue line

    Wednesday April 16, 2014

    The Wild will head to Colorado to face off against a beaten up Avs team in round one of...

  • Video: Wild players take confidence into the playoffs

    Tuesday April 15, 2014

    The Wild will face the Colorado Avs in round one of the Stanley Cup playoffs and they're armed with...

  • Avalanche notes: Injury situation gets better

    Wednesday April 16, 2014

    Defensemen Jan Hejda and Tyson Barrie suffered upper-body injuries in the final two games, but neither is serious.

  • Wild notes: Veilleux, McLeod will renew their comical 2008 rivalry

    Wednesday April 16, 2014

    When you think about funny Stephane Veilleux moments with the Wild, two come to mind.One is when the Wild winger...

  • Colorado Avalanche's Nathan MacKinnon (29), second from left, hugs Maxime Talbot, third from left,after he scored during the second period of an NHL hockey game on Thursday, Jan. 30, 2014 in Denver. Minnesota Wild goalie Darcy Kuemper, left, and Ryan Suter, right, react in the background. (AP Photo/Barry Gutierrez)

  • get related content delivered to your inbox

  • manage my email subscriptions

ADVERTISEMENT

Houston 1 FINAL
Miami 1
Philadelphia 1 FINAL
Minnesota 7
St. Louis 3 FINAL
Detroit 4
Baltimore - WP: T. Wilson 10 FINAL
NY Yankees - LP: S. Baker 2
Boston 9 FINAL
Tampa Bay 6
Toronto 3 FINAL
Pittsburgh 8
Atlanta 5 FINAL
Toronto 3
Washington 2 FINAL
NY Mets 10
Chicago Cubs 5 FINAL
Cincinnati 9
San Diego 3 FINAL
Texas 2
San Francisco 9 FINAL
Seattle 8
Colorado 4 FINAL
Chicago Cubs 18
Cleveland 3 FINAL
Milwaukee 2
Oakland 10 FINAL
Chicago WSox 4
Los Angeles 5 FINAL
LA Angels 4
Kansas City 10 FINAL
Arizona 5
Atlanta 100 FINAL
Charlotte 115
New York 80 FINAL
Chicago 111
Golden State 108 FINAL
Milwaukee 95
Oklahoma City 89 FINAL
Utah 94
Denver 84 4th Qtr 10:24
Portland 88
Nashville 4 FINAL
Washington 3
Arizona 2 FINAL
Pittsburgh 3
San Jose 3 FINAL(SO)
Philadelphia 2
Anaheim 3 FINAL
NY Islanders 2
NY Rangers 2 FINAL
Boston 4
Tampa Bay 0 FINAL
Detroit 4
New Jersey 1 FINAL
Carolina 3
Florida 2 FINAL(OT)
Montreal 3
Ottawa 3 FINAL(OT)
Toronto 4
Los Angeles 1 FINAL
Minnesota 4
Columbus 4 FINAL
St. Louis 2
Buffalo 3 FINAL
Colorado 5
Dallas 1 3rd Prd
Vancouver 2
Arizona 78 FINAL
Wisconsin 85
Canisius 73 FINAL
NJIT 78
Notre Dame 66 FINAL
Kentucky 68
San Jose 1 FINAL
New England 2
Orlando City 2 FINAL
Montreal 2
Los Angeles 0 FINAL
D.C. 1
Sporting Kansas City 1 FINAL
New York City 0
Red Bull New York 2 FINAL
Columbus 1
Portland 1 FINAL
Vancouver FC 2
Colorado 0 FINAL
Houston 0
Seattle 0 FINAL
FC Dallas 0
Texas 54 FINAL
(1) Connecticut 105
Dayton 82 FINAL
(8) Louisville 66
(16) Duke 55 FINAL
(4) Maryland 65
Gonzaga 69 FINAL
(6) Tennessee 73

ADVERTISEMENT

question of the day

Poll: Will Major League Soccer be successful in Minnesota?

Weekly Question

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

Connect with twitterConnect with facebookConnect with Google+Connect with PinterestConnect with PinterestConnect with RssfeedConnect with email newsletters

ADVERTISEMENT

 
Close