The Minnesota Wild weren’t shy about the state’s hockey history during their Stadium Series matchup against the Chicago Blackhawks earlier this year.
The Wild pulled out all the stops to honor the North Stars — Minnesota’s original NHL team — outfitting their alumni in green and yellow and recruiting former North Stars greats like Mike Modano.
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On Thursday, when the Wild open the Stanley Cup Playoffs with a best-of-seven series against the North Stars’ descendants, the Dallas Stars, those old colors probably won’t be making an appearance. The Wild are undisputed underdogs heading into their first ever playoff series against the Stars, as they look to take down a high-octane Dallas offense that led the NHL in scoring this season.
Leading scorers (points): Mikko Koivu (56), Zach Parise (53), Ryan Suter (51), Mikael Granlund (44), Nino Niederreiter (43)
Injury Report: Erik Haula (undisclosed), Zach Parise (back), Thomas Vanek (upper body)
Strengths: Devan Dubnyk has been Minnesota’s rock in goal all season, backed by a defense that is allowing just 28.6 shots on goal per game. The Wild allow just 2.49 per game and have allowed more than three goals just twice in their last 10 games.
Weaknesses: With two of their top scorers potentially on the shelf for game one the Wild are in a tough spot offensively. Minnesota already struggles to score at just 2.60 goals per game, and keeping pace with the Stars’ high-scoring offense will be even harder with just two 20-goal scorers in the lineup.
Leading scorers (points): Jamie Benn (89), Tyler Seguin (73), Jason Spezza (63), John Klingberg (58) Patrick Sharp (55)
Goaltending (save percentage): Anti Niemi (.906), Kari Lehtonen (.905)
Strengths: Dallas leads the league in goals per game at 3.23 thanks to a monstrous season from their top line, anchored by Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin. John Klingberg has provided plenty of punch from the blue line, while Patrick Sharp and Jason Spezza help round out a deep scoring group.
Weaknesses: Antti Niemi may have a Stanley Cup ring after helping the Blackhawks to a title in 2010, but his numbers have been uninspiring this season. He and Kari Lehtonen have split time this season, combining for a .906 save percentage that leaves a lot to be desired, part of the reason that the Stars decided to drop a second-round draft pick and two prospects on pending free agent Kris Russell.
Seguin practiced on Monday and Tuesday, but coach Lindy Ruff won’t yet commit to his star center’s availability for Thursday’s series-opener. Ruff did say that he thought Seguin looked "markedly better" Tuesday, making it increasingly likely that he suits up for Game 1.
Zach Parise’s murky status
The biggest question-mark surrounding the Wild right now is the health of leading goal-scorer Zach Parise. Parise missed Minnesota’s season finale for what Torchetti described as "maintenance" early on, but Parise’s status has since come into question.
A frequent catalyst for the Wild’s offense when he’s on the ice, Parise’s seemingly limitless motor and high-end scoring abilities make him an asset that’s hard to replace.
Can Devan Dubnyk steal a game or two?
A hot goaltender can mean the difference between a first-round exit and the Stanley Cup Finals, and at even strength Dubnyk has been among the league’s best this season. Dubnyk has a 5-on-5 save percentage of .933 this season, good enough for fifth in the league amongst goalies to play at least 2,000 total minutes. Contending with Dallas’ high-scoring offense is a big ask for any goaltender, but if Dubnyk can steal a few games for Minnesota this series could go the distance.