SCOUTING THE WILD (35-16-5)
Kirill Kaprizov, LW: Quite frankly, Kaprizov is the player for which the Wild and its fan base have been waiting for 20 years — a legitimate scorer who can take over a game at any time. The likely Calder Trophy winner as rookie of the year, Kaprizov amassed 27 goals and 24 assists and collected three game-winning goals. Now he takes his game to the playoffs.
Cam Talbot, G: Wild GM Bill Guerin knew he had to improve his team's goaltending last offseason, and he did just that by adding Talbot. The veteran went 19-8-5 with a 2.63 goals-against average and .915 save percentage. There is a concern, though. Talbot has given up 24 goals in his past six games.
Kevin Fiala, LW: With Kaprizov taking the starring role, Fiala slotted in nicely to the No. 2 role, scoring 20 goals and dishing out 20 assists while also leading the team with 14 power-play points. He's shown he can score in the playoffs — three goals in four games last year — and the Wild might need him to do it again.
MUST STEP UP
Matt Dumba, D: The fast, mobile 26-year-old is making his fifth playoff appearance, and he's been held to one goal and two assists in the past three postseasons. A feast-or-famine player at times, Dumba had six goals and 15 assists this season. He's due for some playoff success.
Joel Eriksson Ek, C: Maybe this category should be "Ek-Factor.'' The 24-year-old Swede not only had career bests of 19 goals and 30 points this season, but he also proved to be a defensive pain in the posterior for the opponent's top line, constantly getting under their skin. That's just the type of game of which playoff heroes are made.
BREAKING IT DOWN
Offense: Under coach Dean Evason, the Wild likes to use all four lines, and that has been successful this season with the team ranking eighth in the NHL with 3.23 goals per game. Kaprizov and Fiala are the go-to scorers, but the line of Marcus Foligno-Joel Eriksson Ek-Jordan Greenway has supplied 37 goals. And don't forget the re-emergence of Victor Rask (10-13-23).
Defense: The Wild's blue line top six are taking up $31.67 million in salary cap space this season, so it's clear that management values defense. The team has two elite-level pairings in Jared Spurgeon-Ryan Suter and Jonas Brodin-Matt Dumba, and a solid third pairing in Ian Cole-Carson Soucy. The Wild has allowed 2.86 goals per game, 16th in the NHL.
Goaltending: Talbot and rookie Kaapo Kahkonen have complemented each other well, especially during a February stretch in which Kahkonen won nine consecutive games while Talbot was returning from an injury and COVID-19 issues. Kahkonen struggled down the stretch, allowing 36 goals in his last eight starts. The net will be Talbot's this postseason.
Special teams: The Wild's power play was atrocious for the first three months of the season, ranking last in the league at 7.5% in mid-March. After that, the Wild improved to 17.6%, an improvement to 24th in the league. Minnesota's penalty kill slumped to 12th at 80.8% after being among the league leaders early in the season.
• Jordan Greenway-Joel Eriksson Ek- Marcus Foligno
• Kirill Kaprizov-Ryan Hartman- Mats Zuccarello
• Kevin Fiala-Victor Rask- Marcus Johansson
• Nick Bonino-Nico Sturm- Nick Bjugstad
• Ryan Suter-Jared Spurgeon
• Jonas Brodin-Matt Dumba
• Carson Soucy-Ian Cole
SCOUTING VEGAS (40-14-2)
Mark Stone, RW: The two-way forward has been a steady force, leading the Golden Knights in scoring (21 goals, 40 assists, 61 points). He's a proven playoff performer, too, collecting six goals and six assists in seven games in 2019 and seven goals and 10 assists in 20 games last year as Vegas advanced to the Western Conference final.
Shea Theodore, D: The 25-year-old tied for sixth among NHL defensemen with a career-high 34 assists and added eight goals in 53 games. He's solid in the power play, too, with 15 of his assists coming with the man advantage. Anaheim traded Theodore to Vegas to ensure that the Golden Knights did not draft the unprotected Josh Manson during the 2017 expansion draft.
Marc-Andre Fleury, G: With 492 career victories, Fleury ranks third all-time in the NHL. He backstopped Pittsburgh to a pair of Stanley Cups and already has led Vegas to a Cup Final in 2018 and a Western Conference final appearance last year. At 36, he's 26-10-0 with a 1.98 GAA and .928 save percentage.
MUST STEP UP
Alex Pietrangelo, D: After leaving the Blues for a seven-year, $61.6 million contract with the Golden Knights, the mobile blue-liner has gone through an adjustment period with his new team. He has seven goals and 16 assists, his 0.56 points per game is down from last year's 0.74. He's heated up recently, with nine points in his past 10 games.
Ryan Reaves, RW: At 6-2 and 225 pounds, Reaves supplies the physical presence the Golden Knights need when he's healthy. He hasn't played since April 11 because of an undisclosed injury, but Mark Stone on Friday hinted that Reaves would be back for the playoffs, saying he's excited about adding physicality to the lineup.
BREAKING IT DOWN
Offense: With eight players with 30 or more points, Vegas has plenty of offensive balance, and it tied for third in the NHL with 191 goals scored. Problem is, Max Pacioretty (24-27-51) and Alec Martinez (9-23-32) didn't practice Friday, and their availability for Sunday's opener is uncertain. Pacioretty hasn't played since May 1. The line of Jonathan Marchessault-William Karlsson-Reilly Smith has combined for 46 goals and 62 assists.
Defense: Vegas has given up a league-low 124 goals this season (2.21 per game). In Shea Theodore and Alex Pietrangelo, the Golden Knights have one of the league's top defensive pairings and one that has a combined plus-48 rating.
Goaltending: Marc-Andre Fleury and Robin Lehner teamed to win the William Jennings Trophy, given to the team whose goalies give up the fewest goals in the regular season. They alternated starts down the stretch, so it'll be interesting to see if coach Peter DeBoer settles on one in the playoffs. Lehner was 13-4-2 with a 2.29 GAA and .913 save percentage.
Special teams: Vegas has the league's top penalty kill, successful on 86.8% of its man disadvantages. The power play has been a weakness for the Golden Knights, who rank 22nd in the NHL at 17.8%, just ahead of the Wild's 17.6%. Mark Stone (6-11-17) and Shea Theodore (0-15-15) are the main threats on the power play.
• Tomas Nosek-Chandler Stephenson-Mark Stone
• Jonathan Marchessault-William Karlsson-Reilly Smith
• Mattias Janmark-Nicolas Roy-Alex Tuch
• William Carrier/Keegan Kolesar- Patrick Brown-Ryan Reaves
• Shea Theodore-Alex Pietrangelo
• Brayden McNabb-Nick Holden
• Nicolas Hague-Zach Whitecloud
• LW Max Pacioretty (upper body), D Alec Martinez (lower body) and C Peyton Krebs (jaw) are day-to-day
Game 1: 2 p.m. Sunday at Vegas (Ch. 11)
Game 2: 9 p.m. Tuesday at Vegas (BSN/NBCSN)
Game 3: 8:30 p.m. Thursday at Xcel Energy Center (BSN Plus/NBCSN)
Game 4: 7 p.m. Saturday at Xcel Energy Center (Ch. 11)
If necessary (time/TV TBA)
Game 5: May 24 at Vegas
Game 6: May 26 at Xcel Energy Center
Game 7: May 28 at Vegas