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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If you squint enough, and forget enough of the recent past, and focus on the last two games, you can see Ilya Bryzgalov imitating a playoff goalie.
As they prepare to drop the puck in Game 5, Bryzgalov, in the first four games of this series, is 2-2 with a 2.26 goals-against average.
Now, his save percentage is a mediocre .889. so he’s not exactly inspiring confidence, but he isn’t the flopping mess he so often looked to be in the Colorado series.
Corey Crawford, who has looked increasingly shaky, is 2-2 with a 2.53 goals-against average and a .899 save percentage.
Through four games, this is not the mismatch it was considered to be going in.
Bryzgalov has benefited from the Wild’s effective defense, but also his team’s ability to hold the puck in the offensive end for long stretches.
``That’s the best way to play defense,’’ said Wild forward Zach Parise.
In Round 1, I think the series turned in the Wild's favor when coach Mike Yeo didn't panic over bad calls in Game 5. HIs team remained composed and won the next two games.
In Round 2, the series turned, at least momentarily, when Yeo defended Bryzgalov after his poor performance in Game 2, saying ``This is our guy.'' Bryzgalov has played better since, although he has played better in part because of the Wild's improved play at home.
Michael Russo and I will have plenty of coverage in the paper tomorrow, plus a video and blog posts. I’ll be on WJON in St. Cloud at 7:15 a.m., and on 1500ESPN in the Twin Cities at 12:15 tomorrow. Please follow me on Twitter at @Souhanstrib.
BREAKING NEWS EXCLUSIVE TO THE STAR TRIBUNE: Wild star Zach Parise told me what he eats for lunch every gameday.
``Lunch is going to be the same,’’ Parise said after the Wild’s morning skate at United Center. ``Pasta, chicken, a little salad with ranch, bread and olive oil. Home and road, it’s always the same.’’
That was about the only new out of the morning skate, other than this: The Wild, as it did before Game 7 in Colorado, changed the players’ locker stalls. ``Trying to reverse the luck,’’ Parise said.
Of course, the Wild’s only road win during the playoffs was at Colorado in Game 7.
The Wild is 0-5 in United Center during the playoffs the last two years, but this is a different team. Last year, when Parise and Mikko Koivu struggled to score against Chicago, the Wild had few other offensive options. This year, Koivu has just one assist in the four games, but the Wild has been able to win two games while Koivu has concentrated his efforts on stopping Blackhawks star Jonathan Toews.
``I think he did a really good job the last two games against Toews’ line, not only slowing him down but keeping the puck in the offensive zone,’’ Parise said. ``To me, that’s the best defense, to make them work in their own end a little bit.’’
I’ll be covering Game 5 tonight in Chicago along with colleague Michael Russo. I’ll be on WJON in St. Cloud at 7:15 a.m. and on 1500ESPN in the Twin Cities at 12:15ish on Monday to recap the game. My Twitter handle is @Souhanstrib.
Quite a day on the tundra.
The Wild played brilliantly in a 4-2 victory over the Blackhawks. Wrote my column for the Friday paper on the Wild's dominance.
The Twins beat Justin Verlander in Detroit with a limited roster.
The Vikings introduced their potential franchise quarterback, Teddy Bridgewater, and the guy, at least, passed the interview portion of his career.
Then Bridgewater attended the Wild game, and saw what I saw: The local franchise thoroughly outplay the Stanley Cup champs.
My takeaways from the Wild game:
-I'm no fan of Matt Cooke or his history, but he played extremely well on Friday. His energy and forechecking led to the Wild's first goal and set up a couple of other prime chances.
-Ilya Bryzgalov gave up a terrible goal in the first period, but settled down. He allowed two goals in two home games to the Blackhawks. That's far better than could have been expected.
-The Wild's quality depth at forward has led to an impressive forecheck and plenty of scoring chances. This team, unlike last year's, doesn't have to have Zach Parise and Mikko Koivu score to succeed.
-Marco Scandella and Clayton Stoner are becoming the defensemen the Wild hoped they would be.
-The atmosphere at the X was outstanding once again. Late starts on a Friday play havoc with newspaper deadlines, but they're good for pre-game lubrication.
-Wild coach Mike Yeo's ability to match Koivu against Blackhawks star Jonathan Toews has helped hold Chicago in check. Koivu has managed only one point during this series, but his defense has been exemplary, and he saved at least two goals with timely checks on Friday.
-If Nino Niederreiter keeps working for the puck and skating the way he is now, he's going to become a star. He already has a star's shot, and he's willing to go to the front of the net.
I'll be in Chicago for Game 5, so I'll be doing Sunday Sports Talk on 1500ESPN from 10-noon on Sunday, with Korzo in studio.
My Twitter handle is @Souhanstrib.
Wrote my column about the Wild's young forwards, who won Game 3 for them. ``It's not like we're hiding them on the fourth line,'' Wild coach Mike Yeo said. ``They're playing big roles for us.''
Yes, they are.
In some ways, the Game 3 result could have been expected. The Wild had won three straight Game 3s, and the Blackhawks had lost their first road game of the last eight playoff series. Tuesday made it nine.
Here's who was most impressive on Tuesday:
-I kept waiting for Ilya Bryzgalov to falter and Josh Harding to leap off the top rope and into the game. Tuesday, Bryzgalov pitched a shutout. Give him credit. He maintained his composure through poor play and outside criticism.
-As I note in the column, Yeo has made all kinds of beneficial moves this postseason. It seems every time he shuffles lines or makes a roster change, he gets results. And I think the key to this postseason was his unwillingness to whine about bad calls against Colorado. He kept the focus on the next game, never letting his players spend their time grumbling about officiating.
-Wrote mostly about Granlund, who was spectacular in the Olympics and has been again during these playoffs. He made a beautiful move to his backhand on his first goal, and had a tap-in into an empty net.
-I can't figure out how Erik Haula lasted into the seventh round of the NHL draft. Yes, he's small, but he's fast and played well for the Gophers in front of all manner of scouts. He has been the Wild's most effective player for stretches.
-Yeo just said he expects Matt Cooke to be in the lineup on Friday, for his physical play. I would guess that Matt Moulson, who was invisible again on Tuesday, would sit in favor of Cooke.
-The Blackhawks plan to fly home for their off days and return on Thursday afternoon.
-Doesn't it feel like the Blackhawks just coast at times? They're certainly the more accomplished and demonstrably better team, but there are times when they seem content to wait for the opponent to make a mistake. That happens more in Chicago, where the Hawks benefit from crowd noise and the last line change.
I'll be on WJON in St. Cloud at 7:15 and on 1500ESPN in the Twin Cities at 12:15ish all week. I'll be heading to Chicago for Game 5 with Michael Russo, so you can see more videos of us getting drowned out by a Zamboni at United Center.
My Twitter handle is @Souhanstrib.
While the Wild have have seven different goalies on the roster this season, the Blackhawks have Corey Crawford, who won a Stanley Cup last year and this year is 5-2 with a 1.98 goals-against average and a .935 save percentage.
What's funny about that is that last year, Chicago fans questioned whether they could win a Cup with Crawford in goal. Then he won the Cup, and now they're asking the same question.
Crawford played well in the Game 1 victory over the Wild. His playoff statistics are even better than those of Darcy Kuemper (3-1, 2.03, .913) and much better than Ilya Bryzgavlov's (1-3, 4.17, .821).
If Crawford is truly Chicago's weakness, the Wild are in trouble.
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