The Stanley Cup Playoff quarterfinal series between the Northwest Division-winning Minnesota Wild
and the Northwest runner-up, the Colorado Avalanche
, favors the Avalanche in five-on-five play, while the Wild are much better on special teams.
Wild coach Jacques Lemaire
is well aware the Avalanche tied for second in five-on-five goals (1.97 goals per game), while the Wild ranked only 19th (1.7) at even-strength. The Avalanche are also the NHL's fifth-best team in limiting opponents' shots on goal (27.3 per game) while the Wild rank 20th, allowing 30.1 shots per game.
Neither team shoots much. Colorado ranks 19th in shots per game (28.6), while Minnesota is 26th, taking only 27.0 shots per game.
Minnesota doesn't get the edge until penalties are called. The Wild ranked seventh in power-play efficiency, scoring on 18.9-percent of their man-advantage opportunities, while Colorado ranked 28th, scoring only 14.6 percent of the time. That may change in the playoffs, however, now that Peter Forsberg
is on board and finding some of his old skills returning.
The Wild were the NHL's fourth-best team at killing penalties, 85.2 percent, to Colorado's 81.4 percent, which ranked 21st.
"Special-teams play will be very important," Lemaire said. "But when you look at these stats, sometimes they are true and other times they are not. On our part, we've been satisfied only at different times in our power play. We've had sequences of four, five or six games when the power play was going well and we needed it to win games.
"When you are playing five-on-five and doing well, you don't need the power play as much. Our power play has turned out to be very important for us. In the playoffs it seems like, you know, the five-on-five game is pretty equal. Every team will go on (power plays), and you see a difference on the special teams pretty much every game.
"So for us it will be huge. We have the tools. We have the talent to score goals on the power play. We only have to put it together, moving the puck around, getting the right shot at the right time."
Lemaire was asked about three players who will have to be at their best if the Wild is to advance to the second round of the playoffs – leading scorer Marian Gaborik
, top defenseman Brent Burns
and utility forward Brian Rolston
He is very enthusiastic about Burns, 23, who had a breakout season in his fourth year with the Wild. Burns set team records for defensemen with 15 goals and 43 points while finishing second to Kim Johnsson
with an average of 23:05 of ice time per game. He led Wild defensemen with a plus-12 rating, third-best on the team.
Burns, the Wild's first pick (20th overall) in the 2003 NHL Entry Draft, is 6-foot-5 and 219 pounds. He led the Wild with 61 takeaways, ranked third with 99 hits and fourth with 73 blocked shots.
"If I start with Burns, the last year-and-a-half he's been climbing to become a top player, a top defenseman," Lemaire said. "He's a young guy, but he's got tremendous talent. He's got great ability, great skills. He's a big kid. He's strong. He's got a great shot. Offensively, he brings a lot to this team. He turned out to be, even at his age, our top defenseman."
Rolston, 34, had 31 goals and 59 points, the third straight season he has topped 30 goals and the fourth time in his career. He tied for the Wild lead with eight game-winning goals and 11 power-play goals. Rolston is used in all situations. He led Wild forwards in power-play ice time while finishing fourth in penalty-kill time.
"Rolston has been a real solid player,” said Lemaire. “I knew Rolston from New Jersey (when he coached the New Jersey Devils
from 1993-98) and I was quite happy when we got him to play here because he's a guy that comes to play every night. He's been with us scoring 25 goals and more every year, playing the power play, killing penalties, making plays against top lines at times. So we can't ask more from Rolston."
"We have the tools. We have the talent to score goals on the power play. We only have to put it together, moving the puck around, getting the right shot at the right time." - Wild coach Jacques Lemaire
Gaborik ranked seventh in the NHL this season with 42 goals and tied for 12th with 83 points, while going plus-17. He tied Rolston with eight game-winning goals.
"Gaborik is a young guy that is still getting better," Lemaire said. "I feel that he still has a lot to learn. I feel that, again, this kid could be a really great player in a couple years, as soon as he will get all of his game and have confidence in a certain way of playing the game. He's more an offensive kid, but he can play as good defensively as he can offensively.
"You know, we're quite happy with all three of them."
The Wild joined Pacific Division-champion San Jose Sharks
and Central Division-winning Detroit Red Wings
as Western Conference division winners. The reigning Stanley Cup champion Anaheim Ducks
have the West's third-best record, four points better than the Wild. Lemaire was asked if he was comfortable being grouped with those three teams among the West's favorites.
"Favorite? If we finish ahead of the other teams, you'll be the favorite, and you have to accept that," Lemaire said. "If you don't, then automatically you're not. I know that there's better teams than our team in the playoffs. But I always say the games are played on the ice."