Jim Souhan analyzes the local sports scene and advises you to never take his betting advice. He likes old guitars and old music, never eats press box hot dogs, and can be heard on 1500ESPN at 2:05 p.m. weekdays, and Sundays from 10 a.m.-noon.
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Could it end this quickly?
Could the team that put together three months of excellence and dominated its first-round playoff series get swept, and see its season end at home on Thursday?
The Minnesota Wild lost, 1-0, and excruciatingly, to the Chicago Blackhawks on Tuesday night at Xcel Energy Center. Chicago leads the series, 3-0, the close score on Tuesday only heightened the Wild's frustration.
This is the highest-scoring Wild team in history, but it has failed to solve Chicago goalie Corey Crawford, thought to be his team's weak link entering this series.
Other than a three-goal flurry in Game 1, the Wild has too often failed to stuff in available rebounds, too often shot wide while facing open net.
Tuesday, it was a familiar story for the Wild: Minnesota skaters put more shots on net and often dominated the flow of play, but while Wild players often threw the puck toward the net, Chicago's stars displayed precision.
The difference in this game was that when the puck wound up on Patrick Kane's stick, he scored cleanly, through the legs of Wild goalie Devan Dubnyk. That was all it took to bring the Wild's season to the brink.
Only four teams in the history of the Stanley Cup playoffs - covering 178 series - have rebounded from a 3-0 deficit to win.
Tuesday, Thomas Vanek did not distinguish himself. He often pulled up just inside the blue line with the puck, ignoring open ice and turning his back on breaking teammates. When the puck was in the defensive zone, he often hung out near mid-ice, hoping for a breakout pass.
The Wild took 30 shots and scored on none of them. Solving Crawford will be their goal on Thursday night in St. Paul, when the Wild tries to send the series back to Chicago.
Nice to see Erik Haula not only in the lineup, but dressing in an actual locker today. No longer is he sitting under the occupancy sign and in front of a brick wall.
Haula will bring speed to the Wild's lineup, and I'm guessing that if Mike Yeo was willing to pick him to replace the injured Justin Fontaine, that Haula's conditioning and practice intensity have improved of late.
Sometimes Wild coach Mike Yeo is very forthcoming about the way the game is played, and I loved the way he broke down the Wild's philosophy when attacking the Blackhawks. The Blackhawks are excellent at breaking out after blocked shots or rebounds. So how does the Wild adapt to that?
Here's Yeo at length on the subject from this morning:
``One, you have to make sure that when you have an oportunity to shoot the puck you’re getting it off quickly. Especially their defensemen, they like to front a lot of shots, which leads to a lt of blocks, and obviously those blocks they’re in a pretty good structure and position where they can coutner attack from that.
It’s the recognition. We still have to shoot pucks. It’s not like we can all of s sudden be afraid to shoot pucks, we have to make sure we’re getting pucks there and if we do get it by then then quite often we’ve seen a few pictures already where we’re in behind them and we’re all alone with the goalie where we can create an advantage if we get it off a little bit quicker and do get it to the net.
``If that’s not there the recognition of making sure we’re not forcing it, that’s actually how we scored our first goal of the game, we didn’t’ have a play to the net and their defensemen were coming up, we were able to get that puck down low and establish some puck control from there.''
Yeo was also asked about the closeness of many of his players.
Yeo: ``Obviously as a coach you try to learn as much as you can what builds teams. Certainly we try to do anything we can as far as the team0-building. First and foremost it’s about bringing eh right people into your organization. But nothing builds a team the way that winning does. As we’ve started to win some more games, players start to recognize and they look across the lockerroom and see a guy who is doing everything he can to help you and your cause, those are the things that build a team for sure. We’ve got good people and we’ve got good people pulling for each other.''
I also liked his answer to a question about Matt Dumba's enthusiasm. Dumba has been full of life during practices here.
Yeo: ``I think that’s a really really important quality. Quite often there’s such emotion and with emotion comes tension and obviously frustration at times, at the complete other end of the spectrum. The ability to enjoy what we’re in right now, to me that’s crucial, and obviously we all have big plans of what we’d like to do here, but the bottom line is you have to enjoy what you’re doing ,and you have to enjoy the competition and you have to enjoy the hard parts. It’s something that we try to stress – that’s what makes it great right now. Enjoy the pressures and enjoy the difficulties and the battles through the course of the game, because in the game overcoming that stuff is what makes it so great.
When the Twins started 1-6, guess what? Fans were angry, because this felt like the same ol' mediocre team.
Since then, the Twins are 11-6 even without their two primary free agent signees the last two seasons, Ervin Santana and Ricky Nolasco.
Paul Molitor should be commended for providing calm when this team needed it. Players are raving about his demeanor. I also think Torii Hunter's ability to remain positive while he and the team were struggling has played a role.
On SouhanUnfiltered.com, Michael Russo and I previewed the series in our last podcast. Next one: 2 p.m. Tuesday at The Liffey, across from the Xcel Energy Center, with Wild owner Craig Leipold. Free Guinnesses and prizes to people who show up.
CHICAGO – During the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs, while facing the St. Louis Blues, Wild forward Zach Parise offered little in terms of praise. He kept saying that he doesn’t like to talk about opponents during the playoffs.
Now that Parise is facing the Chicago Blackhawks in the second round, suddenly he is quite happy talking about the opponent.
My guess: He really didn’t like or respect the way the Blues played, and, because he’s such an honest guy, knew he couldn’t say anything nice about that would be truthful.
Now he’s facing a championship-caliber team with classy core players, and he’s fine praising them.
``We know how good they, are and how good they can be, and we respect them,’’ Parise said Friday after the Wild’s morning skate at United Center. ``We respect how good they are and how much success they’ve had as a team. And we know that we have to play our best to beat them.’’
The Blues tried to start fights, or bait the Wild into retaliation, after almost every whistle. The Blackhawks feature one instigator, in Andrew Shaw, but even he probably won’t go the lengths that Blues forward Steve Ott did, patting Jason Zucker on the head.
``I don’t think this is two teams that get in scrums after the whistle,’’ Parise said. ``It’s not like our first round where after every whistle there’s a scrum. I just don’t think the two teams are built like that. I think that both teams respect the way the other team plays and what they do.’’
Strib hockey writer Michael Russo and I are in Chicago for Games 1-2. We're also doing a podcast at 5 p.m. today. You can find it at SouhanUnfiltered.com. You can listen live or anytime later via the web site, Iheart radio, or Itunes. Thanks.
So, the day I write a column about how entertaining the NFL draft and even Rick Spielman are, we have one of the most boring first rounds in memory.
The Vikings' pick was boring, too. Logical, but boring.
Since Spielman hired Mike Zimmer and Zimmer hired Norv Turner, it's remarkable how linked their player evaluation and player development has been.
Zimmer saw a great player in the quite-raw Anthony Barr, and he was right on. Turner ignored Teddy Bridtgewater's horrendous pro day, saw a fine quarterback with a fixable flaw, and he was right on.
Trae Waynes is another player with outstanding physical skills who Zimmer thinks will fit his system and approach. Zimmer has built enough credibility that it's difficult to question him.
I'm sure Spielman wanted to trade down and pick up extra picks. I'm also sure that every other team picking from 10-20 would have traded down, meaning Spielman had no viable trade partners. So he took a player with whom he was comfortable, and with whom Zimmer wanted to work.
Not exciting, but it fits the Vikings' plan.
Wasn't there, but I was told that the NFL draft in Chicago was a little awkward. Nothing happening in the arena between picks. A lot of quiet, interrupted by booing of Roger Goodell.
Even though it's a TV event, the NFL should find a way to make it more of a party for those who show up in person. Every team does it these days. Why can't the league?
I picked the Wild to beat the Blues in seven, and it turns out I was a pessimist.
I'm picking the Wild to beat Chicago in six, mainly because I think if the Wild is going to win it has to follow a certain blueprint: Win one of the first two, win both at home, survive a Game 5 loss and win GAme 6.
The Blackhawks are still a superior team of skaters, but Devan Dubnyk gives the Wild a tremendous advantage in goal over the Hawks' duo.
An interesting Twins' development: It seems that every time manager Paul Molitor rests a slumping player, that player returns with a better swing and approach. Danny Santana, Kennys Vargas, Brian Dozier...Credit Tom Brunansky and Molitor, two very different hitters who seem to have the players' attention.
Today at SouhanUnfiltered.com, Strib hockey writer Michael Russo will be doing a live podcast from Chicago this afternoon. We'll tweet out the time later after we attend the Wild's morning skate. Other recent podcasts: Strib basketball writer Jerry Zgoda on the Wolves and North Stars, Strib football writer Master Tesfasion with detailed analysis of the draft, and more Russo. Thanks for listening.
Also, I'll be on 105 The Ticket with Bob Sansevere at 3:30 this and every weekday afternoon.
St. Louis _
Some observations from the Blues and Wild morning skates at Scottrade Center:
-This is a series between point guards and power forwards. You walk around the Blues’ lockerroom and you see bodies that would look at home in an NFL facility. You walk around the Wild’s and you don’t see many candidates for protein powder commercials. You wonder, if this series goes seven games, whether the Blues’ superior size could wear down the smaller Wild.
-Devan Dubnyk is a loose, funny guy. He talked about feeling that he’s ``in the right place,’’ and that because of that feeling he doesn’t feel the amount of pressure he expected during a playoff series. ``We feel like we’re doing what we’re supposed to be doing right now,’’ he said. ``We feel like we can win this game and win this series, and that’s when you know you’re supposed to be here, when it feels right.’’
-Zach Parise is so demanding of himself that I saw him curse himself after he missed the goal during drills.
-Parise is wearing a scruffy beard. He joked that he hasn’t had much success growing them in the past, but he’s giving it a try right now.
-Parise admitted he doesn’t like talking about opponents during playoff series. He’s close friends with Blues forward Chris Porter – they played at Shattuck together – but the two haven’t spoken during this series. Parise wouldn’t even offer praise of the Blues’ spectacular Vladimir Tarasenko. ``He’s good,’’ was all Parise would say.
-For Minnesota Wild fans who don’t get to travel to away games, please understand how good you have it. Of the away arenas I’ve traveled to in recent years – St. Louis, Colorado, Chicago, Tampa Bay, Vancouver, Anaheim and Dallas – only Anaheim and Dallas are anywhere as close as nice a joint as the Xcel Energy Center. They don’t actually compared, but at least they’re not dumps like Scottrade. Chicago has a tremendous game-day experience because of the fans, the Anthem and the game production, but the building itself is nowhere as comfortable and fan-friendly as the X.
-Blues coach Ken Hitchcock was tremendous when talking about the reasons for the lopsided performances so far in this series. I’m writing about that for the newspaper, but he noted that he’s never seen such short shifts, and that’s due to these being two teams offering maximum effort and investing themselves totally in their defensive assignments. Since Hitchcock has won 708 NHL games, his perspective is fascinating. This has been a remarkable series for sheer effort.
-Hitchcock noted that Blues agitator Steve Ott has played better, and under more control, when used at center. Hitchcock said that as a winger ``he’s a big of a wingnut.’’ His point: When Ott is at wing, he doesn’t worry about controlling the puck or maintaining position, leaving him free to roam around causing trouble. At center, he tries to run his line, keeping him in line.
-Wild captain Mikko Koivu has one assist and no goals in this series. Since 2008, when he had four goals and an assist in six games, he has one goal and seven assists in 22 games. He does a lot of little things well for this team. He is not doing the big things well.
-I’m not a big believer in the plus-minus statistic in hockey, but, for what it’s worth, Mikael Granlund is the only Wild player with a positive, at plus-2.
-Patrick Berglund leads the Blues at plus-5.
-Hitchcock said defenseman Alex Petrangelo has been his best player so far.
-Personal view: I picked the Wild to win in seven, and thought the first three games of the series – the Wild finding a way to win one in St. Louis, the Blues bouncing back, the Wild dominating Game 3 – were all fairly predictable. I did not expect the Blues to dominate the way they did in Game 4. I agree with Hitchcock when he said, ``The series is where it should be, all even. And I expect a really good hockey game tonight.’’
Michael Russo and I will do a live podcast from St. Louis at 4 p.m. today (Friday) to preview Game 5. You can listen live or later at SouhanUnfiltered.com, or via Iheartradio. You can also get a free subscription through Itunes that will deliver every podcast to your inbox. Thanks.
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