The Wild have made the playoffs in each of their last three seasons, which equals the total number of playoff appearances the franchise has enjoyed since 2000-2001, the year they entered the NHL through league expansion.
Under head coach Mike Yeo, the Wild have gained relevance across the league, and have proven that they have the pieces set in place to compete with the NHL’s best teams. However, in each of the previous two seasons, the Wild’s playoff runs have been cut short by the Blackhawks ─ one of the NHL’s perennial cup contenders.
With that, a deep hatred of the Hawks has manifested throughout the state of Minnesota, and with the Wild getting set to face them for the third straight postseason, you can almost sense the, “here we go again” attitude from the Wild faithful.
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However, although the Blackhawks have exerted their playoff dominance over the Wild for the past few seasons, I’m here to explain to you why this year is going to be different.
Before the Wild traded for Arizona’s backup goaltender Devan Dubnyk in mid-January, the Wild were in the midst of a 3-13 slide that extended for over a month. Following the trade, the team surged immediately. Dubnyk started an unprecedented 36 consecutive games in goal, going 26-8-2 during that stretch with a 1.788 goals against average, and a .936 save percentage to propel the Wild into the Western Conference’s first wild card spot.
But Devan Dubnyk isn’t the only new face in a Wild sweater since the Hawks last had their way with them in the playoffs. In fact, only eleven of the players who saw playoff action against Chicago in the previous two seasons remain with the team, so it’s comforting to know that at least the Blackhawks will be forced to face a new, less familiar set of weapons this time around.
Another aspect of the series that’s tilting in the Wild’s favor is the play of Blackhawk goaltender Corey Crawford. A cornerstone of the Hawks’ success in each of their recent playoff runs, Crawford has struggled with his consistency as of late, and even watched the majority of the first round series from the bench as rookie backup Scott Darling saved the Hawks’ season with some impressive heroics in relief. With Crawford off his A-game, a lot of opportunity becomes available for the Wild.
In a recent interview with the Chicago Tribune, reporter Chris Kuc asked Blackhawks’ head coach Joel Quenneville what he thought about the Wild and the threats that they present, “They have a lot of confidence. They play an excellent team game, they’ve gained a lot of momentum off what they’ve achieved" he said.
Very true, coach. Very true.
The reality is, this might be the best Wild team we’ve ever seen with the way they’ve been playing, and the momentum they’ve maintained over the past few months has me optimistic about their upcoming series against the Blackhawks. Third time’s a charm, right?