RYAN SUTER Ø
Along with partner Jonas Brodin, Suter will be tasked with the most ice time and biggest assignments. If he’s good, the Wild usually is successful. When he’s scored on, the Wild usually is not successful. That’s the equation when you’re the NHL’s leading time-on-ice player (29 minutes, 3 seconds this season, 28:47 the past three seasons) for three years running. Suter is plus-17 the past 36 games after being minus-23 in a 21-game stretch during the season’s dog days. The Wild did a good job lowering Suter’s ice time since the All-Star break with the hope he would have more in the tank this postseason.
Koivu is one of the Wild’s best two-way forwards, and the team will be relying on its longtime captain to check but also score. In the past two postseasons, Koivu has only one goal in 18 games, six assists and is minus-10. He had a quality series against Colorado last year by finishing second with six points, but he dried up for a second year in a row against the Blackhawks. Jason Zucker’s speed on a line with Koivu and big-body Chris Stewart is intriguing.
Coming off an outstanding postseason with 14 points in 13 games, Parise is the Wild’s engine, heart and soul. The Wild will need him to score again. The Wild’s leader this season with 33 goals, 11 power-play goals, 62 points and 259 shots, Parise had 19 goals, 32 points and was plus-18 over his final 39 games. His work ethic is relentless, and the Wild will need him to never take a shift off and lead the way against a hardworking, vast Blues team.
MUST STEP UP
The Wild’s leading goal scorer last season had the lowest non-lockout-year output of his career, scoring 18 goals in 82 games, this season. That matched his rookie year production of 18 goals in 57 games in 2005-06. He frustratingly fanned on shots routinely and led the team with 84 missed nets. Pominville had nine points in last year’s playoffs, but he scored one goal in each series. The Wild needs more from Parise’s linemate.
This is going to be a big man’s series, and the Wild needs Coyle to play like a big man alongside linemate Nino Niederreiter, who scored the clinching Game 7 overtime goal in last year’s first round. He has the size, physical tools and ability to be a two-way force. He showed flashes this season, but for the most part, he left fans wanting more. But he had a strong first-round series against Colorado last year and secretly played with two separated shoulders.
BY THE NUMBERS
Record when scoring first (won 22 of the past 24 games)
Goals allowed in 40 games since Jan. 15 (fewest in the NHL)
Third-period Wild goals since Feb. 22 (23 games, most in NHL)
Third-period goals allowed by Wild since Feb. 22 (fewest in NHL)
Wins when trailing after two periods (5th in NHL)
All-time in playoff overtimes
BREAKING IT DOWN
The Wild no longer is a Mikko Koivu injury away from disaster, no longer a one- or two-line team. Those were trademarks of Wild teams from yesteryear, but this season, the Wild set a franchise-record with 227 goals and got balanced scoring up and down its lineup. If the Koivu or Mikael Granlund lines were stymied, the Wild’s third or fourth lines contributed. The Wild had four 20-goal scorers (Parise, Thomas Vanek, Nino Niederreiter and Jason Zucker). Vanek scored eight goals and 13 points in 16 games in large part to Chris Stewart’s arrival solidifying the Wild’s lines and giving the team three scoring lines.
The Wild allowed the fourth-fewest shots per game (27.6) and sixth-fewest goals per game (2.42) this season. The blue line is mobile, can log big minutes and does a tremendous job keeping scoring chances to the outside. The defensemen will face a big test this season because St. Louis has some of the biggest forwards in the NHL. But the Wild blue line also can strike offensively. Marco Scandella, Jared Spurgeon and Matt Dumba combined for 28 goals, and Ryan Suter and Jonas Brodin do excellent jobs getting the puck out and on transition. As a sixth D, coach Mike Yeo can choose all series between the more physical Nate Prosser and more mobile Jordan Leopold.
For the first time in years, the Wild has stability in net. Devan Dubnyk, acquired Jan. 14, started 38 in a row before Darcy Kuemper finally gave him a respite last week in Nashville. Dubnyk went 27-9-2 with a 1.78 goals-against average and .936 save percentage. He went 15-2-1 on the road with 1.53 GAA and .949 save percentage. This will be Dubnyk’s playoff debut, so it’ll be interesting to see how he handles the pressure.
For a second year in a row, Mike Yeo and his coaching staff never panicked amid midseason struggles. Yeo showed some tough love during two practices, and his defensive system was vindicated when Dubnyk arrived and the Wild returned to playing structured hockey and frustrated opponents to no end. The Wild’s 59 points since Jan. 15 were the most in the league, and it tied an NHL record with 12 consecutive road victories.
Tale of two stories here. The Wild’s penalty kill went from 27th-ranked last season and to the NHL’s best this season, killing 86.3 percent of opposing power plays. The Wild killed 91 of 100 power plays in 36 games (91 percent) since the All-Star break. However, the Wild’s power play has been a killer all season. Besides being unproductive at a 27th-ranked 15.8 percent, it constantly douses momentum.