For the first time, the Wild has three lines that can score. Marian Gaborik and Pavol Demitra combined for 87 points since Jan. 11, and Brian Rolston and Pierre-Marc Bouchard always are threats on the second line (51 goals). The third line could be the key because Mikko Koivu and Mark Parrish can bang, bring energy and keep the puck in the offensive zone.
One of the most mobile blue lines in the NHL (led by Kim Johnsson's skating, by no means his offense) relies mostly on solid positioning. This is not a physical group, so if the Ducks are allowed to get in on the forecheck and spend long spells in the Wild zone, it could be a long series (make that, a short one). Brent Burns blossomed into an offensive threat in March. If that could continue, it would be a big plus for the Wild.
The Wild's power play has been sensational at home and lousy on the road. The power play is built around getting the puck to the point for Rolston's big shot (Rolston, below, often plays the entire two minutes). However, opponents' penalty kill units have learned this and have been keeping him from getting the puck. The Wild's penalty kill was second only to Vancouver's.
This will be the key. Niklas Backstrom, who had the NHL's lowest goals-against average (1.97) and best save percentage (.929), was the Wild's backbone after Manny Fernandez sprained his left knee in January. But will Backstrom's calm demeanor continue in his first NHL postseason? In Finland, he won two league championships, but the NHL playoffs are a different animal.
The Wild had a team-record 104 points and came one point from winning the Northwest Division. It was tied for the second-most home victories in the NHL (29) and finished 15-4-2 on the road after starting 4-15-1. Eleven Wild players are making their postseason debuts, although there's undoubtedly lots of veteran leadership.
It's hard to imagine Jacques Lemaire, below, and his 11 Stanley Cup rings (eight as a player, one as a coach and two in the front office) being outcoached in a seven-game series. He always gets the best out of his players, and there's no doubt the Wild came together as a team in the season's second half. The two-time NHL coach of the year is terrific at making adjustments, especially during games, and trusts his staff of Mike Ramsey, Mario Tremblay and Bob Mason wholeheartedly.
|Chicago WSox - LP: Z. Duke||1||FINAL|
|Detroit - WP: J. Soria||2|
|San Diego - WP: J. Shields||5||FINAL|
|Chicago Cubs - LP: B. Schlitter||4|
|Philadelphia - LP: S. O Sullivan||2||FINAL|
|Washington - WP: M. Scherzer||7|
|Milwaukee - LP: J. Nelson||3||FINAL|
|Pittsburgh - WP: V. Worley||6|
|Atlanta - WP: C. Martin||8||FINAL|
|Toronto - LP: B. Cecil||7|
|Miami - LP: B. Hand||1||FINAL|
|NY Mets - WP: B. Colon||4|
|Baltimore - LP: B. Matusz||2||FINAL|
|Boston - WP: K. Uehara||3|
|NY Yankees - WP: D. Betances||5||FINAL|
|Tampa Bay - LP: K. Jepsen||4|
|LA Angels - WP: C. Ramos||6||FINAL|
|Houston - LP: C. Qualls||3|
|Cleveland - LP: B. Shaw||2||FINAL|
|Minnesota - WP: B. Boyer||3|
|Oakland - LP: D. Otero||4||FINAL|
|Kansas City - WP: W. Davis||6|
|Cincinnati - LP: J. Cueto||1||FINAL|
|St. Louis - WP: M. Wacha||6|
|Colorado - LP: K. Kendrick||3||FINAL|
|Los Angeles - WP: C. Kershaw||7|
|Texas - WP: Y. Gallardo||3||FINAL|
|Seattle - LP: J. Happ||1|
|Arizona - WP: J. Collmenter||9||FINAL|
|San Francisco - LP: J. Peavy||0|
|Red Bull New York||2|