Cross Checks: Minnesota Wild
Despite making a significant step this spring -- advancing to the second round of the 2014 Stanley Cup playoffs and taking the Chicago Blackhawks to six games in the Western Conference semifinals -- the Wild head into the upcoming season with one big question on everyone’s mind: Who will be their starting goaltender?
Wild head coach Mike Yeo has stated publicly that the team will enter training camp with all three netminders who made starts last season: Josh Harding, Niklas Backstrom and Darcy Kuemper.
Harding had a sensational start to the season but was sidelined indefinitely in January while continuing to battle multiple sclerosis. Backstrom was hampered by a groin injury. Kuemper entered as an unproven youngster, but he impressed quite a few people.
“That’s going to be a topic around here, especially as training camp rolls around, but I’m not nearly as concerned with the goaltending scenario as most people,” Walz told ESPN.com in a recent phone conversation.
Why is that? Walz said that, from the people he has spoken with, Harding is reportedly in an “excellent place right now.” Moreover, he believes Backstrom is in much better shape following the second surgery to repair his groin issues. And Walz was thoroughly impressed by what he noticed in Kuemper last season, saying that the 24-year-old has “tremendous potential.”
If Kuemper begins the season with the team’s AHL affiliate in Des Moines, Iowa, and Harding and Backstrom are healthy to start the season, the club should be in good shape.
“If those two start the season, I think both goaltenders will be among top 10 in the league,” said Walz, who now works as an analyst for Fox Sports North on Wild broadcasts.
Walz thinks the biggest challenge for the Wild is not defending the net, but filling it.
“It’s not a secret that every team in the NHL needs guys that can finish around the net and guys that can score. If you watch all six of our [playoff] games against Chicago, I would say that in five of six of those, they outchanced and outplayed [Chicago], but they had a very difficult time finishing, whether that be 5-on-5 or in the slot on the power play,” Walz said. “That was kind of the theme even throughout the season.”
Enter Thomas Vanek, whom the Wild inked to a three-year, $19.5 million deal as one of the top unrestricted free agents this summer.
Walz thinks that the two-time 40-goal scorer will provide a huge boost to the Wild’s offense, as well as to their power-play unit.
“Signing the biggest fish on the market as far as a guy who can potentially score 40 goals was an outstanding move,” Walz said. “I’m very excited about the term of the deal. Not sure you want to lock in for a guy that is getting a little older -- six, seven years could potentially throw a noose around the organization -- but the money is good, the term is fair and you get a guy who is a right-handed shot in the middle of the power play.”
Walz felt that was a dynamic that the Wild really missed on their man-advantage, which finished 17th in the league. Walz concedes that Vanek, a former standout at the University of Minnesota, may have to deal with added pressure playing back home, but that he will also come into training camp with something to prove following a disappointing run in the playoffs with Montreal last spring.
Whether he was placed in a position to succeed or whether he just plain underperformed, Vanek must be itching to make a statement early this season.
“I’m sure he’s going to want to come here and prove everyone wrong,” Walz said.
Joining Vanek is a loaded crop of young players that includes Mikael Granlund, Nino Niederreiter and Charlie Coyle. But asked about which “kid” he is most intrigued to see compete this season, Walz had an unequivocal answer that some people may find surprising: Erik Haula
Though Haula played a good chunk of last season in the minors, he was “absolutely outstanding” when called up. Walz even ventured to say that he may have been one of the team’s most consistent performers down the stretch.
Walz, who played seven seasons for the Wild and served two seasons as an assistant coach for the Tampa Bay Lightning, said he recognizes some elements of Haula’s game that remind him of himself as a young player.
He thinks Haula has a great opportunity to become a standout NHL player.
“He’s a checking center, a great penalty-killer, he’s smart away from the puck, very cerebral and coachable,” Walz said. “You can’t teach the way he can skate. He’s got another gear on the ice and when he hits it, it brings people out of their seats.”
Walz saw the way Haula earned more and more trust from Yeo last season, and he expects him to pick up where he left off to continue his progression.
As for the rest of the team, Walz has no doubt the Wild will again be a playoff team, but considering the absurd level of competition in the Central Division, this season will test the club’s mettle, no doubt.
“It’s gonna be a grind right from day one,” Walz said. “It’s going to be paramount you don’t get into five-or-six game skids. It’s going to be important to try to get out of those. The teams that get out of those little funks are the teams that are gonna make it into the playoffs.”
Hair bands and hockey hair: a marriage made in heaven. So, we're dropping the needle on 30 songs that say something about each of the 30 teams -- using nothing but cheesy videos from the 1980s. The Western Conference list is below, so feel free to mullet over. (Eastern Conference is here.)
ANAHEIM DUCKS: "Maniac," Michael Sembello
Those crazy kids on the left coast will try pretty much anything. Which means it's all or nothing for the Ducks, who, if it weren't for their downtown neighbors, might be living the high life instead of never seeing the third round. But real life is hard, so that's why the Ducks went out and got Ryan Kesler and are sticking with young hotshots John Gibson and Fredrik Andersen in net, no matter what. And they mean it this time. Carpe diem, ducklings!
On the ice-blue line of insanity, it's a place most never see
It's a hard-won place of mystery, touch it but can't hold it
You work for your life for that moment in time, it could come or pass you by
It's a push of the world, but there's always a chance
ARIZONA COYOTES: "Livin' On A Prayer," Bon Jovi
Arizona Coyotes, Phoenix Coyotes ... does it really matter? With the team's arena deal hitting an unexpected bump in the road recently, this team's off-ice fortunes continue to cloud the future. Not to mention that said arena is still so far out in the boonies that no one goes to the games.
We've got to hold on to what we've got
'Cause it doesn't make a difference
If we make it or not
We've got each other and that's a lot
CALGARY FLAMES: "Holding Back The Years," Simply Red
What's the deal with these perennially lousy teams in Alberta? Not all the Brian Burkes in the world seem to able to fix this broken franchise. Jarome Iginla must be so happy he's not there anymore.
Holding back the years
Chance for me to escape from all I've known
Holding back the tears
'Cause nothing here has grown
I've wasted all my tears
Wasted all those years
And nothing had the chance to be good
Nothing ever could yeah
CHICAGO BLACKHAWKS: "U Can't Touch This," MC Hammer
"The Blackhawks are so good." "Break it down, ESPN.com!" "They are so good, no one in the West will be able to touch them. Er, until the playoffs." "You had me and then you lost me, ESPN.com!"
Cold on a mission so fall them back
Let 'em know that you're too much
And this is a beat, uh, you can't touch
COLORADO AVALANCHE: "Beat It," Michael Jackson
Time to see what you're made of, Avs. You had an overachieving season followed by a disappointingly early departure from the playoffs. How you respond after all the Patrick Roy glass-pushing and novelty wears thin will reveal your true character. Show us how funky strong is your fight. And, by the way, let's see you do it without Paul Stastny.
Just beat it, beat it, beat it, beat it
No one wants to be defeated
Showin' how funky strong is your fight
It doesn't matter who's wrong or right
Just beat it, beat it, beat it, beat it, beat it
DALLAS STARS: "Hip To Be Square," Huey Lewis And The News
We're watching you, Tyler Seguin. The fate of the Stars rests on your considerable shoulders. Show us what you've got.
I used to be a renegade, I used to fool around
But I couldn't take the punishment and had to settle down
Now I'm playing it real straight, and yes, I cut my hair
You might think I'm crazy, but I don't even care
Because I can tell what's going on
EDMONTON OILERS: "We're Not Going to Take It," Twisted Sister
All those high draft picks, all those low places in the standings, all that disappointment for a passionate fan base, all those seasons of missing the playoffs. Will the fans bail on the Oil?
If that's your best
Your best won't do
LOS ANGELES KINGS: "We Are The Champions," Queen
C'mon, you knew this one was coming: Kings, Queen, defending champions. But, seriously, can anyone dethrone the Kings?
We are the champions
We are the champions
No time for losers
'Cause we are the champions
MINNESOTA WILD: "Abracadabra," Steve Miller Band
Who's playing net here? Is it a revolving door again? That never works.
I heat up, I can't cool down
You got me spinnin'
'Round and 'round
'Round and 'round and 'round it goes
Where it stops nobody knows
NASHVILLE PREDATORS: "Notorious," Duran Duran
The Predators never seem to learn. A couple of years ago, they brought in bad boys Andrei Kostisyn and Alexander Radulov late in the season, and their late-night carousing -- in the playoffs, no less -- helped bring the previously rolling Preds machine to a grinding halt. Now, they sign Mike Ribeiro and his ambiguous "behavior issues." Ribeiro -- whose camp sought out the Predators -- says he's changed his ways. Whatever. GM David Poile must be the king of second chances, or he likes living life on the edge.
That's why I've done it again
ST. LOUIS BLUES: "Don't You Want Me," Human League
"Sorry, Ryan Miller, but we've decided to go in another direction. It just wasn't a good fit. No, no, it was us, not you. Yes, we can certainly be friends."
Don't, don't you want me?
You know I can't believe it when I hear that you won't see me
Don't, don't you want me?
You know I don't believe you when you say that you don't need me
SAN JOSE SHARKS: "The Breakup Song," The Greg Kihn Band
Some feel the underperforming Sharks would be best to start from scratch. Will fans forgive them if they don't?
Now I wind up staring at an empty glass
Uh uh uh, uh uh uh uh uh
Cause it's so easy to say that you'll forget your past
Uh uh uh, uh uh uh uh uh
VANCOUVER CANUCKS: "Separate Ways," Journey
Poor Canucks fans. Too many good goalies, not enough good goalies, fired coach goes to the Cup finals with another team ... so confused by the unrequited love they have for their mixed-up team. Everyone who comes to this team and isn't a twin seems to eventually go his separate way.
Caught between confusions and pain, pain, pain
Promises we made were in vain
In vain, vain
WINNIPEG JETS: "The Way It Is," Bruce Hornsby and the Range
You know the Jets aren't really that far away from being the Thrashers, right? And you remember how crappy the Thrashers were, right? This team seems to spin its wheels no matter where it is or who is coaching it. Shame, really.
That's just the way it is
Some things will never change
That's just the way it is
And, I've got to tell you, it seems like you've got plenty of candidates, new and old, serious and not: Mikko Koivu, Andrew Brunette, Pierre-Marc Bouchard, Manny Fernandez, Dwayne Roloson, Marian Gaborik, Zach Parise, Ryan Suter, Niklas Backstrom, Derek Boogaard, Brian Rolston, Nick Schultz, Matt Johnson, Brad Bombardir!
If one player could represent your team in the Hall of Fame, who would it be? C'mon, Wild fans, bring those votes.
You can cast your ballot in three ways: in the comments section below, through our Facebook page or, if you're hitting us up from Twitter, use the hashtag #ESPNplayerNHL.
He talked about free agency and the desire to keep any deals the Wild might be involved with on a short-term basis.
How many times have NHL GMs pledged fiscal responsibility and not getting sucked into the free-agency abyss then gone willingly over the edge the moment the market opened?
Too many to count, that’s how many.
But credit to Fletcher, who surprised no one by inking talented free-agent winger Thomas Vanek on Tuesday afternoon but surprised many by getting Vanek to agree to a three-year deal worth $6.5 million annually.
No doubt it’s a lot of money if the Vanek who meandered his way through the playoffs with the Montreal Canadiens this spring shows up in Minnesota for the next three years.
Vanek was acquired by Montreal from the New York Islanders at the trade deadline after the Islanders had nabbed the Austrian native from the Buffalo Sabres earlier in the season. While he was productive enough during the regular season with 27 goals and 68 points in spite of all that moving around, he was a major disappointment to a Canadiens team that advanced to the Eastern Conference finals.
He scored in just three postseason games (five goals in total) and was without a goal in the Canadiens’ final seven games, including the entire Eastern Conference finals against the New York Rangers.
Minnesota will need Vanek to shake off that disappointing playoff performance to make this deal work.
The Wild have gone quickly from playoff bubble team to a team where expectations are to win playoff series and in the next few years challenge for a Stanley Cup.
They took a big step along that path this spring with a stirring comeback in the first round against Colorado after falling behind 2-0 and 3-2. They then gave the Chicago Blackhawks all they could handle in a six-game second-round loss.
The Wild are loaded with veteran talent in Ryan Suter, Zach Parise and Jason Pominville and have terrific youngsters emerging like Mikael Granlund, Erik Haula, Charlie Coyle and Jonas Brodin.
Vanek, who went to the University of Minnesota, whose wife is from the State of Hockey and who has long been rumored to want to play for the Wild, has a chance now to be part of something special in Minnesota.
One imagines his desire to, in a way, come home went into accepting a much shorter term than he could have gotten when last season began.
Perhaps coming home will help Vanek grow into being not just a top-end point producer, but a leader and key contributor -- something that has been lacking from his résumé thus far.
But if it doesn’t turn out that way, this deal means the Wild’s future hasn’t been jeopardized by an albatross of a contract the likes of which some of Fletcher’s colleagues were doling out Tuesday.
"I’m excited and intrigued to see some of the options [that] will be laid out in front of me," Martin Brodeur told ESPN.com on Monday. "It’s something that’s new to me; it’s going to be fun."
Technically, Brodeur did in fact enter free agency two years ago, but that was really just because it took Devils GM Lou Lamoriello some time to come around on the idea of a two-year deal.
This time, it’s for real. Brodeur is almost surely changing teams, something Devils fans probably never thought they would see in their lifetime. But Brodeur is eager for a new challenge before he wraps up an incredible career. He’s got one of the sport's big-time agents in Pat Brisson of CAA Sports.
Brodeur is willing to look at different types of fits.
"It depends on the opportunity," Brodeur said. "I’m pretty open-minded about things. For me, this is a year that’s going to be a challenge for me regardless of where I land, first because it’ll be in a different organization, second because it’ll be a new [role]. It’s something where I think I’m just going to really enjoy the game and not worry about carrying a team. I’m just going to be a piece of the puzzle for a team, hopefully."
Whether that’s mentoring a young starting goalie or even helping a more established starter, Brodeur is ready to be that guy.
"It’ll be fun for me just to see what the opportunities are," he said. "But I’m open-minded, whether it’s a team with a good young goalie or being in a spot where I’ve got a chance to win a Stanley Cup again ... just look forward to seeing what’s out there."
Brodeur also knows it may not happen on Day 1 of free agency for him. He needs to patient as Brisson works out the market for him.
Maple Leafs president Brendan Shanahan publicly stated over the weekend Toronto had some interest, although I don’t think there’s much money to spend there. Not to mention James Reimer hasn’t been traded yet.
What about Tampa Bay? It needs a backup goalie. Just a thought.
What now for Tampa?
The Tampa Bay Lightning shed $5.65 million in cap space Sunday night with their three trades, fueling no end of speculation that the club was going to be quite active come Tuesday. Perhaps ... but this is about Tampa creating roster/payroll flexibility moving forward whether that’s for signing a player or two come Tuesday or for having that space to do something over the next few months.
"It gives us some options," Lightning GM Steve Yzerman told ESPN.com on Monday. "Really, prior to yesterday, other than trying to sign a backup goaltender, we really weren’t in a position to do anything at all. And we may end up doing nothing [Tuesday] other than signing a backup goaltender, but we’d like to explore [the free-agent market]."
Yzerman pointed to possibilities both up front and on defense.
"We’d like to get potentially a center or maybe a winger," said Yzerman. "And then, we have seven defensemen signed and we’d like to carry eight. Depending on fit and contract, whether it’s a really expensive guy or a low-end one-way, we’ll try to add one more defenseman."
Yzerman said he'd prefer a right-handed defenseman. The Bolts GM would not discuss specific names, but sources have confirmed Tampa’s interest in UFA blueliner Matt Niskanen as well as veteran Dan Boyle, among others.
Tampa joins the likes of Detroit, Toronto, Montreal and the New York Rangers on the list of teams interested in Boyle, as well as places where he would be happy to sign, according to a source.
Niskanen, well, he’s wanted by nearly everyone. He could fetch north of $6 million a year on the open market Tuesday. I don’t believe Tampa will bid like crazy; the deal would have to make sense for them.
Around the market
- Speaking of Niskanen, likely the most sought-after blueliner on the market Tuesday, his agent, Neil Sheehy, was busy Monday trying to pare down the long, long list of teams interested in signing his client.
"We are narrowing the list to a workable number today. I can't say how many but rather a workable number," Sheehy said via email.
- Brad Richards is set for free agency for the second time in his career. Bought out by the New York Rangers, the veteran center would be a valuable addition at the right price. His leadership was on full display during New York’s playoff run and his hands are still capable of helping any power play. Reached via text Monday, Richards didn't want to comment, saying he wanted to keep a low profile on the eve of the market opening.
- Paul Stastny’s agent, Matt Keator, was working Monday to shorten the list of suitors. Some 15 teams showed interest since the speaking window opened. Keator said Monday morning it was time to work it down to a more workable list, planning to speak with Stastny to identify the top suitors, which another source suggested would include St. Louis. Colorado, of course, also would remain in the mix right to the end, either way.
The Stastny situation continues to affect the Jason Spezza trade scenario to some degree, most notably with the Blues’ interest in both players. One source did suggest Monday that the Dallas Stars might renew their exploration of the Spezza situation. As I reported Saturday, the Stars have talked to San Jose about Joe Thornton, but either way would like to pick up another top-end center.
- About eight to 10 teams have circled back to the Thomas Vanek camp with interest. Minnesota, of course, is one of those teams, although as we reported last week, the Wild have expressed to Vanek’s camp that they won't do a long-term deal. Despite that, Minnesota remains very much part of Vanek’s wish list, although where exactly he ends up Tuesday remains to be seen. Sounds like he’ll have to decide between a shorter-term deal in Minnesota (where he really wants to play) or a bigger offer elsewhere. Meanwhile, Vanek met with Wild coach Mike Yeo on Sunday, a source confirmed, to talk about his possible fit.
- After Josh Gorges refused to accept a trade the Toronto, the Habs must either find a trading partner with one of the 15 teams on Gorges’ approved teams list or put him on waivers, my TSN colleague Bob McKenzie reported earlier today. Will the prospect of going on waivers convince Gorges to take the trade to the Leafs?
- Jussi Jokinen hits the market Tuesday as it appears the Penguins won’t be re-signing him.
A source told ESPN.com that Jokinen’s camp offered to re-sign for $4 million a year, a raise over the $3 million he made this past season, but the cap-challenged Penguins feel it’s too much money.
Jokinen’s agent, Todd Diamond, wouldn't divulge those kinds of details, only to say he still hoped to hear back from Pittsburgh before the market opened Tuesday.
"Our last conversation was that they would get back to us, but we haven’t heard back yet," Diamond said Monday morning.
"We have three or four other teams that we’ve spoken to. But I think with these potential trades possibly happening [Jason Spezza, etc], that may also create more interest for Jussi and other players in his position. It’s a pretty fluid situation right now."
Diamond also represents forward Leo Komarov, who wants to return to the NHL after a year in Russia. The former Maple Leafs forward played well in the Olympics for bronze-medal winner Finland, and there’s a lot of interest in him, according to Diamond.
"I don’t have enough fingers to count how many teams have called," said Diamond. "He’s a very popular player right now. He’s 27 and brings lots to the table."
- Speaking of interest, there's plenty as well apparently in Martin Havlat, who became an unrestricted free agent after the San Jose Sharks bought him out. A source told ESPN.com approximately 10 teams have called on him since he was bought out. The long list of injuries have minimized his impact over the past few years, but at the right price, there are teams that can’t help but wonder if getting him on the rebound would be a nice bargain and a solid gamble if he can stay healthy.
- TSN's Darren Dreger reported Monday that the Maple Leafs would make one more push on pending UFA center David Bolland, but it wouldn’t be more than five years or above $5 million a year. Not sure that’s going to get it done.
- Pending UFA winger Radim Vrbata has seven or eight teams on his trail, although the Coyotes remain in the mix. It was expected agent Rich Evans and the Coyotes would talk again Monday at some point.
The Ryan Kesler trade talks have taken an interesting twist on the eve of the NHL draft’s first round.
Sources around the NHL have told ESPN.com that the list of teams pursuing Kesler has grown over the past 24 hours.
We reporter earlier this week that Anaheim and Chicago were the two known front-runners on a short list. But it appears more teams have tried to jump into the race.
The question is, will Kesler allow them to? Armed with his no-trade clause, Kesler controls his destination and may not approve of some of these teams.
The No. 1 center on the unrestricted free-agent market continued to generate a lot of interest on Day 2 of the window to talk to free agents, and as of late Thursday afternoon around 15 NHL teams had communicated in one way or another with Paul Stastny's camp led by agent Matt Keator.
We reported Wednesday that the St. Louis Blues were among the inquisitive teams, add the Winnipeg Jets and Chicago Blackhawks to the long list of teams that have checked in on the Stastny camp. The Jets could certainly use a top-six center and their interest in Stastny is said to be quite legitimate. The Blackhawks have spoken to Vancouver about Ryan Kesler in their search for a No. 2 center. Imagine Stastny centering Patrick Kane? Problem is, not really sure how the Hawks could afford Stastny under their cap when you consider that the Stastny camp is telling clubs they don’t intend on taking a pay cut from the $6.66 million a year the Team USA Olympian was making on his expiring contract.
For the Blackhawks, the more people you talk to around the league the past few days, the more you hear about Chicago making calls and looking at a number of different scenarios. They might very well be an active team here over the next seven to 10 days.
However this process plays out for Stastny -- likely going right to July 1 -- the Stastny camp will certainly circle back to the Colorado Avalanche to give them a chance to improve their offer and try to retain Stastny.
A year ago the Minnesota Wild had so little cap room they had to essentially sit on the sidelines while the free-agent market played itself out.
Now with the cap going up plus Dany Heatley’s $7.5 million hit coming off the books, GM Chuck Fletcher can get back in the game.
"Yes, it’s nice to be able to get involved more, I spoke with several agents yesterday," Fletcher told ESPN.com on Thursday morning.
Fletcher would not say who he spoke to, but a separate source confirmed he had spoken with, among others, agent Steve Bartlett, who represents UFA winger Thomas Vanek. Whether or not that gets done -- as so many have been predicting for a year -- remains to be seen. I think it’s really going to depend on term, not sure the Wild want another super long-term deal on their books. If Vanek signs in Minnesota, it’s not for more than three or four years in my estimation.
As of late Thursday afternoon, we’re told eight to 10 teams had communicated some level of interest in Vanek, although at this point I’d rate about four teams with series interest.
While Fletcher would not comment on specific UFA targets, he did identify general needs.
"If we don’t re-sign [winger] Matt Moulson and [defenseman] Clayton Stoner, then we have to replace those players," Fletcher said of his two pending UFAs. "In an ideal world, we’re looking for a guy who can chip in offensively up front and a fifth/sixth defenseman. Obviously there’s options in both those areas where the price tag might vary a little bit."
It doesn’t sound very probable for Moulson to re-sign.
"I think he’s got to look at what the best fit for him is. We do, too," Fletcher said. "I think it’s fair to say both sides are looking at what’s out there."
- Veteran agent Don Meehan and his Newport Sports team met Thursday with Montreal Canadiens management regarding RFA star blueliner P.K. Subban. There have been people speculating about a possible offer sheet but that appears to be a waste of time, a Habs source telling ESPN.com that the club would match it in no time.
- The Edmonton Oilers acquired and signed defenseman Nikita Nikitin on Wednesday but they’re far from done. Or hope not to be. A source says the Oilers still want to acquire another established defenseman and also upgrade at center.
- Matt Niskanen, one of the top UFA defensemen, informed the Pittsburgh Penguins on Thursday that he was going to the July 1 market to see what’s out there.
"Matt has decided to see what the free-agent market is," Niskanen’s agent, Neil Sheehy, told ESPN.com on Thursday. "He’ll make a decision after he’s seen all the teams interested and decide what’s the right fit. Pittsburgh isn’t out by any means, but I think where the market is going to be and what they’ll be able to do is going to be a contrast. So we’ll see where this all leads."
- Former Leafs GM John Ferguson Jr. will be joining the Boston Bruins front office, a source told ESPN.com. Ferguson has been with the San Jose Sharks for a number of years.
Bruins at Canadiens, 7 ET (Series tied 1-1)
* Patrice Bergeron (BOS): has points in 6 straight games (2 G, 6 A during streak)
* Bruins: 4-1 in last 5 road playoff games vs Canadiens (lost last)
* P.K. Subban (MTL): 9 points (2 G, 7 A) this postseason – tied for scoring lead among defensemen (with Chicago’s Brent Seabrook); 4 points (2 G, 2 A) in first 2 games of this series (had 4 points in 7 career playoff games vs BOS entering series)
* Canadiens: 2-0 at home this postseason; were 2-5 in previous 7 home playoff games entering 2014 postseasons (2 of 5 losses were to Bruins)
Western Conference second round – Game 3
Blackhawks at Wild, 9 ET (Blackhawks lead series 2-0)
* Blackhawks: won 6 straight playoff games since trailing 2-0 vs Blues in first round series (outscored opponents 23-9)
* Blackhawks: lead Stanley Cup Playoffs in penalty killing at 93.9 pct (31-33); have not allowed a PPG in last 4 games (12-12 during span)
* Jonathan Toews (CHI): has points in 6 straight games (4 G, 3 A during streak)
* Wild: 3-0 at home this postseason; split 2 home playoff games in only previous playoff series vs Blackhawks (2013 Western Conf. Quarterfinals)
"This game is huge," Wild coach Mike Yeo said. "We know that."
Yeo has made line adjustments, moving Matt Moulson to a third unit with Erik Haula and Justin Fontaine.
In other news, injured rookie goaltender Darcy Kuemper skated earlier on Tuesday but isn’t ready to join the full team for practice, Yeo said.
Playoff scoring leader Zach Parise acknowledged the start will be important for a Wild team that is 3-0 on home ice in the playoffs.
"This league is a lot easier when you're playing with the lead," Parise said. "It's tough to come from behind all the time. We've had some pretty good starts in this building. That's the plan. But it doesn't always go the way you want it to. Even if we don’t get a good start or the first goal, I think it’s important for us to not stray away from what we’re trying to accomplish, what we’re trying to do, and how we’re trying to play. But I expect us tonight to have a lot of energy and come out with a good start."
Across the ice, the Blackhawks will not have Andrew Shaw in the lineup for Game 3. Kris Versteeg or Jeremy Morin or Brandon Bollig will take that spot, and two of those three will play on the fourth line with Michal Handzus.
The Blackhawks, winners of four straight, will have defenseman Niklas Hjalmarsson in the lineup, but he cannot speak to the media for several weeks after taking a shot to the throat in Game 2. Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville joked that players might be lining up to take a similar shot in order to avoid the media.
Line combinations and defense pairings for Game 3:
Zach Parise-Mikael Granlund-Jason Pominville
Nino Niederreiter-Mikko Koivu-Charlie Coyle
Matt Moulson-Erik Haula-Justin Fontaine
Dany Heatley-Kyle Brodziak-Cody McCormick
Ryan Suter-Jonas Brodin
Marco Scandella-Jared Spurgeon
Clayton Stoner-Keith Ballard
Patrick Sharp-Ben Smith-Patrick Kane
Bryan Bickell-Jonathan Toews-Marian Hossa
Brandon Saad-Marcus Kruger-Joakim Nordstrom
Kris Versteeg/Brandon Bollig-Michal Handzus-Jeremy Morin
Duncan Keith-Brent Seabrook
Niklas Hjalmarsson-Johnny Oduya
Nick Leddy-Michal Rozsival
Veteran Ilya Bryzgalov will get the start in Game 1 for the Wild against the Chicago Blackhawks, like he did in the first round against the Avalanche before getting swapped out for Kuemper as the Minnesota goalie rotation continues moving.
“It’s been crazy,” said Wild forward Dany Heatley. “But everybody who has gone in has played well.”
Bryzgalov picked up the Game 7 win in relief of Kuemper to improve his postseason stats to 1-2 with an .826 save percentage. In 41 career playoff games with the Ducks, Coyotes and Wild, Bryzgalov is 18-21 with a .905 save percentage.
He’ll be backed up by John Curry, the 30-year-old Minnesota native who has played in six career NHL games. According to Mike Yeo, Kuemper isn’t in Chicago and continues to get checked out by team doctors.
The wildcard in this series could be Josh Harding, who is practicing with the team but is considered by Yeo a longshot to get playing time in this series. Harding hasn’t played since December 31 while battling multiple sclerosis.
“[It’s] get him on the ice and get him back to being part of the group and helping out a little bit with practice,” Yeo said. “I have to figure out exactly what the rules are, to be honest with you. I don’t even know. For me, I’m not even considering it right now. If there’s an absolute emergency or there’s a desperate situation we find ourselves in we’ll be prepared for that.”
As for Heatley, he practiced with the first power play unit, his role continuing to expand after being a healthy scratch early on this postseason. His ice time grew from 10:41 in his playoff debut in Game 3 against the Avalanche to 16:58 in the overtime finale. He had five points in the last three games of that series.
“For me, this is the most Dany Heatley that we’ve seen all year,” Yeo said. “He’s just handled things so well all year. It’s been real impressive to watch.”
DENVER, Colo. -- You didn’t need the plus-minus stat or the "Three Stars" awards to tell which guy in the visiting locker room felt the best after the Minnesota Wild beat the Colorado Avalanche 5-4 in overtime in a back-and-forth, back-and-forth Game 7 at the Pepsi Center.
Jared Spurgeon, a defenseman, dropped jaws when he tied the game in the waning minutes of the third period on a nifty goal that skipped over Avs goalie Semyon Varlamov's shoulder. But it wasn’t him.
Nino Niederreiter, who scored twice Wednesday, was almost as stunned as the Mile High crowd when he scored the game-winning goal 5:02 into overtime on a 2-on-1 chance. But it wasn’t him, either, on this night.
The biggest smile in room belonged to goalie Ilya Bryzgalov. His stat line on Wednesday: one save on one attempt.
After the 33-year-old was benched during Game 2 after inconsistent play, Bryzgalov returned to the ice midway through the third period in relief of injured starter Darcy Kuemper and helped the Wild grab their first playoff series win since 2003.
In 13 minutes, 15 seconds in net, Bryzgalov faced just one chance from the Avalanche, who struggled to create shots all series -- but to their credit, it was a good one. The much-beleaguered goalie, however, made a sliding save, stopping the shot with his left shoulder in the opening minutes of overtime to extend the game.
Bryzgalov became the only goalie to record one save and earn a Game 7 victory.
“It doesn’t sound like much but that [save] was huge for us,” said Niederreiter, who finished off the game minutes later with a patient shot that beat Varlamov. “That was our season there.”
Bryzgalov has had a rough going the past couple of seasons. Following playoff success with the Anaheim Ducks and Phoenix Coyotes in the first decade of his career, the netminder’s reputation went downhill fast after he didn’t live up to his bloated contract with the Philadelphia Flyers from 2011-2013.
He was bought out during the 2013 offseason, but returned to the NHL with the Edmonton Oilers this season, before the Wild took a chance on him at the trade deadline.
Wednesday, for 13-some-odd minutes, Bryzgalov was perfect.
“[Tonight] felt good,” Bryzgalov said, “just wanted to help the team.”
After the game, Wild coach Mike Yeo showed confidence in Bryzgalov for the first time this series -- perhaps knowing he has no choice as the severity of Kuemper’s injury is still unknown -- saying the Wild would be in good shape with whoever started in goal in the second round.
“If only we had any experience dealing with this," Yeo said with a smirk. "We're fortunate we have good depth at that position."
The Wild face the defending champion Chicago Blackhawks in the second round, a rematch of a first-round series that the Blackhawks won in five games last season.
Game 1 is Friday in Chicago.
EASTERN CONFERENCEBoston vs. Montreal
Thursday, May 1 at 7:30 p.m. at Boston (NBCSN, CBC, RDS)
Saturday, May 3 at 12:30 p.m. at Boston (NBC, CBC, RDS)
Tuesday, May 6 at 7 p.m. at Montreal (CBC, RDS, NBCSN)
Thursday, May 8 at 7:30 p.m. at Montreal (CBC, RDS, NBCSN)
*Saturday, May 10 at TBD at Boston (CBC, RDS)
*Monday, May 12 at TBD at Montreal (CBC, RDS)
*Wednesday, May 14 at TBD at Boston (CBC, RDS)
Pittsburgh vs. NY Rangers
Friday, May 2 at 7 p.m. at Pittsburgh (NBCSN, CBC, RDS)
Sunday, May 4 at 7:30 p.m. at Pittsburgh (NBCSN, CBC, RDS)
Monday, May 5 at 7:30 p.m. at NY Rangers (NBCSN, CBC, RDS)
Wednesday, May 7 at 7:30 p.m. at NY Rangers (NBCSN, CBC, RDS)
*Friday, May 9 at TBD at Pittsburgh (CBC)
*Sunday, May 11 at TBD at NY Rangers (CBC)
*Tuesday, May 13 at TBD at Pittsburgh (CBC)
WESTERN CONFERENCEChicago vs. Minnesota
Friday, May 2 at 9:30 p.m. at Chicago (NBCSN, TSN, RDS)
Sunday, May 4 at 3 p.m. at Chicago (NBC, TSN, RDS)
Tuesday, May 6 at 9 p.m. at Minnesota (CNBC, TSN, RDS2)
Friday, May 9 at TBD at Minnesota (TSN)
*Sunday, May 11 at TBD at Chicago (TSN)
*Tuesday, May 13 at TBD at Minnesota (TSN)
*Thursday, May 15 at TBD at Chicago (TSN)
Anaheim vs. Los Angeles
Saturday, May 3 at 8 p.m. at Anaheim (NBCSN, TSN, RDS)
Monday, May 5 at 10 p.m. at Anaheim (NBCSN, TSN, RDS)
Thursday, May 8 at 10 p.m. at Los Angeles (NBCSN, TSN, RDS)
Saturday, May 10 at TBD at Los Angeles (TSN)
*Monday, May 12 at TBD at Anaheim (TSN)
*Wednesday, May 14 at TBD at Los Angeles (TSN)
*Friday, May 16 at TBD at Anaheim (TSN)
* if necessary
TBD – To Be Determined
Eleven years after Roy gave up the final goal of his career, an overtime goal against the Wild in a Game 7 at home, the visiting Wild shocked the highly-passionate 48-year-old along with the ruckus Pepsi Center fans with a 5-4 overtime win Wednesday night.
How it happened: Well, a controversial goal happened. The Avs continued to regain the lead throughout regulation, but in the end, Wild winger Nino Niederreiter's goal 5:02 into overtime was all that mattered. It was the Wild’s first lead of the game. Niederreiter scored twice and added an assist on Jared Spurgeon's game-tying goal with 2:27 remaining to help the Wild into the second round of the playoffs. After a shaky second period by the Avs, Paul Stastny provided some much needed energy with his fifth goal of the postseason to give the Avs a 3-2 lead early in the third period. Then Minnesota-native Erik Johnson scored his first goal in 22 days 11:16 into the third to give the Avs the 4-3 lead, after Niederreiter had tied the game. Minnesota answered all night and answered late, just like the Avs had most of the series.
What it means: Somebody finally won on the road. And this time it wasn't the Avs tying the game late and scoring in overtime.
Player of the game: Stastny scored his series-high fifth goal when he flung the puck past Darcy Kuemper from just inside the blue line. After trade rumors swirled around the the USA Olympian for much of the season, he gave the Avs’ offense a big lift after the team had only five shots on net in the second period. But Niederreiter scored the biggest goal of the series when he beat Semyon Varlamov 5:02 into overtime.
Stat of the game: The Wild outshot the Avs in six of the series’ seven games. Wednesday's final tally was 35-22 in favor of Minnesota.
What’s next: The Minnesota Wild will travel to Chicago to face the defending champion Chicago Blackhawks in the second round of the playoffs.
Stanley Cup Playoffs – Game 7s
Flyers at Rangers, 7 ET
* This is the 2nd time the Flyers and Rangers have played a Game 7 against each other. In the 1974 Semifinals, the Flyers beat the Rangers, 4-3.
* Teams have alternated wins and losses throughout series (last game was won by Flyers).
* Flyers: best record in Game 7s (9-6) of any team with at least 10 games played.
* Flyers: 9-6 in Game 7s (3-3 on road)
* Flyers: won each of their last 2 series vs Eastern Conference teams when trailing 3-2
* Rangers: looking for first playoff series win vs Flyers since 1986 Patrick Division Semifinal (have lost last 3 series vs Flyers)
* Rangers: won 6 of their last 7 Game 7s (including their last 3), after losing their first 4 Game 7s
* Rangers: 6-5 all-time in Game 7s (5-0 at home)
Wild at Avalanche, 9:30 ET
* There have been 25 teams to overcome a 3-1 series deficit in NHL playoff history.
* Home team has won every game this series
* Wild: defeated Avalanche in Game 7 of 2003 Western Conference Quarterfinals
* Wild: 2-0 all-time in Game 7s (both on road)
* Avalanche: 6-6 all-time in Game 7s (4-2 in Game 7s at home)
Kings at Sharks, 10 ET
* Kings: 9th team to force Game 7 when trailing 3-0
* Sharks: 2nd time being pushed to Game 7 after taking 3-0 series lead (2011 vs Red Wings ... SJ won Game 7)
* Only 3 NHL teams have won a series when trailing 3-0 (1942 Maple Leafs, 1975 Islanders, 2010 Flyers)
* Each team has scored 21 goals this series
* Kings: eliminated Sharks in Game 7 of Western Conference semifinals last year
* Kings: 4-4 in Game 7s (2-3 on road)
* Sharks: 5-3 in Game 7s (2-0 at home)
Forced Game 7 After Trailing Series 3-0
Stanley Cup Playoff History
2014 Kings Sharks
2011 Red Wings Sharks
2011 Blackhawks Canucks
2010 Flyers << Bruins
1975 Islanders Flyers
1975 Islanders << Penguins
1945 Red Wings Maple Leafs
1942 Maple Leafs << Red Wings
1939 Rangers Bruins
>> Won game
* Sidney Crosby & Evgeni Malkin (PIT): 0 goals on 32 combined shots in series
* Sidney Crosby (PIT): 0 goals in last 10 postseason games (longest streak of his career)
* Team to score 1st has lost each game in series
* Blue Jackets: 27.3% (6-22) on power play in series (19.3% in regular season)
Avalanche at Wild, 9 ET (Avalanche lead series 3-2)
* Home team has won each game of series
* Nathan MacKinnon (COL): leads all players with 10 points this postseason
* Nathan MacKinnon (COL): 10 points in series are the most ever by a rookie under age 20 in his first playoff series
* Teams are a combined 3-33 on power play in series
Sharks at Kings, 10 ET (Sharks lead series 3-2)
* Kings: won last 2 games in series after losing 1st 3; looking to become 4th team in NHL history to come back from 3-0 series deficit
* Kings: outscored Sharks 9-3 in last 2 games (wins); were outscored 17-8 in 1st 3 games of series (losses)
* Marc-Edouard Vlasic (SJ): questionable for Game 6 (upper body); has never missed a playoff game in his career (88 straight)
ST. PAUL, Minn. -- Matt Duchene took part in his second full morning skate in three days and will be a game-time decision for Monday night.
Colorado Avalanche head coach Patrick Roy said he would meet with the team doctor later Monday to get more information and will also see how Duchene feels after warm-ups Monday night before deciding if the star center returns.
Duchene, on Monday morning, skated with Ryan O'Reilly and P.A. Parenteau, although it should be noted Jamie McGinn didn't partake in the skate.
Roy was vague about where Duchene would fit in if he does play, saying only that he would find a spot for him among his four lines.
But it seems hard to believe that Duchene and O'Reilly, a pairing all season long, wouldn't find each other at some point Monday night if the star center does play.
The Avs' leading scorer in the regular season, Duchene has missed 13 games with a knee injury. His return, even if he's rusty, would add all-world speed to an Avs lineup that struggled to produce any offense here in Minnesota in Games 3-4.
While the Avs’ lineup is in flux because of the Duchene situation and their lines are a bit of an unknown, the Wild are expected to dress the same four forward lines:
Zach Parise-Mikael Granlund-Jason Pominville
Matt Moulson-Mikko Koivu-Charlie Coyle
Nino Niederreiter-Erik Haula-Justin Fontaine
Dany Heatley-Kyle Brodziak-Cody McCormick
Roy a trend-setter?
Ducks head coach Bruce Boudreau, in the aftermath of his team's crazy, come-from-behind win to eliminate the Stars on Sunday night, credited Patrick Roy for giving him the gumption to pull his goalie for an extra attacker with more than two minutes left in the game.
Traditionally, coaches over the years have pulled their goalies with about a minute left, but Roy's yearlong decision to pull his netminder for an extra attacker with well over two minutes to go, sometimes more, might have started a trend, judging by Boudreau’s comments.
Told Monday morning of what Boudreau said, Roy refused to take any credit.
"You might start to see it more and more, but I'm not going to take any credit for that," Roy said after the morning skate. "I'm going to give the credit to my players. Because imagine if we get scored on pulling the goalie with three minutes left in the game, everyone is going to say: 'Look at that stupid idiot, he pulled his goalie with three minutes and got scored on.' Our players deserve credit. The players are creating the trend here. Yeah, it's a decision by the coach to do it, but it’s the players that do the work and they’re the ones who should receive the credit for that."
Avs players say one of the effects of pulling the goalie earlier is that they don’t press as much with the extra attacker because they know they've got more time than usual. So they don’t feel like their next shot on goal is their last one. It shows on the ice, as the Avs look very much comfortable in that situation, scoring with the goalie pulled late in Game 1 and late in Game 5.