For three of the past five seasons, the Chicago Blackhawks have single-handedly stood in the way of the Wild getting anywhere near its first Stanley Cup.
That string of playoff exits from 2013-15 has certainly fueled the Wild, with coach Bruce Boudreau calling Chicago his team’s “No. 1 rival” that has players with “championship blood.” And even new addition Marcus Foligno felt the fire in the teams’ first meeting Oct. 12, dropping the gloves with Chicago’s John Hayden.
But with Chicago having won three Stanley Cups from 2010-15, including two of the years it dispatched of the Wild in the postseason, it’s hard to believe the perennial powerhouse feels the same way.
Except Chicago captain Jonathan Toews said the emotions are a bit contagious.
“We feel it when we come to this building. We feel it when the Wild are on the road in Chicago, that they’re ready for these games, and we have to come in with that same attitude,” Toews said. “These division points are huge, but it adds to the fact that we’re playing a team like the Wild, and we’ve got some history against them. And I think both teams are kind of looking at each other throughout the season as measuring sticks and just seeing where you’re at when the playoffs come around.
“We know that if you want to make a run for the Cup, you’re probably going to have to go through one of these two teams. So obviously it’s a long season, but these games early on are very important.”
Winger Tyler Ennis, who joined the team this summer along with Foligno from the Buffalo Sabres, said even though he is new to conference and the division, his teammates informed him of the high stakes.
“The boys have kind of told me that tonight’s going to be loud, maybe louder than usual, just because of the rivalry,” Ennis said Saturday morning. “And that’s something I’m very excited to be a part of.”
Ennis finding his groove
Defenseman Matt Dumba wasn’t the only player to have a bit of a rebound game Thursday against Montreal. Boudreau had also called upon Ennis to become more involved.
Well, he followed up by scoring his 100th league goal.
Since his trade from Buffalo, Ennis has played mostly on the third and fourth lines. But with the Wild only about a 15th of the way through the season, he’s not too concerned yet about his three-goal tally or the team’s uneven play in general.
“There haven’t been many nights where the lineup’s been the same. Lines have been switched around quite often,” Ennis said. “I just think it’s early in the season. We’re finding our groove. We’re learning, and we’re growing as it goes. And we’re getting healthier as it goes along. And I think improvement’s just going to continue to show.”
A patient man
With defenseman Kyle Quincey missing the past two games with an injury, as Boudreau confirmed Saturday, Mike Reilly and Gustav Olofsson took up the last defensive pairing.
Olofsson has played six games this season and was to again sit out Saturday against Chicago. But the 22-year-old is used to waiting his turn. He played 13 games for the Wild last season while playing mostly in the minors.
“It’s tough because you tend to get in your head a little bit, but it’s just try to stay focused and not worry and not think too much,” Olofsson said. “I think consistency and just getting out there regularly kind of helps you build and continue to get better. But just like before, now that I’m back out, just try to stay ready and do what I can when I get back in.”
Boudreau said Olofsson improves every day just as a young player around a locker room full of league veterans. And while the Swede should expect to be in and out of the lineup for most of this season, Boudreau said Olofsson reminds him of a young Jonas Brodin, one of the Wild’s top-four guys.
“When you’ve got seven D, and you have to move them around, especially when you’ve got young guys like Ole and Mike,” Boudreau said. “You can’t have them sitting. You don’t want your young guys sitting too much or too long.”
Olofsson said in a way it’s not hard to stay prepared for his next start when he knows there’s always one on the horizon.
“Think about it like everybody’s been through it, and it’s part of the process,” Olofsson said. “It’s early in the season, too, and I think everybody is going to be needed throughout the season.”