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No. 3 Minnesota Wild vs. No. 6 Colorado Avalanche

by Staff

This time, the skate rests squarely on the other foot.

At least the Wild have good memories of the Colorado Avalanche when it comes to playoff hockey.

Nick Schultz, Niklas Backstrom and the Wild won five of eight meetings this year over Wojtek Wolski and the Avalanche.
Highlights of Wild-Avalanche last meeting - 4/6 
You can bet all of Minnesota will be recalling the 2003 Stanley Cup Playoffs this spring as its Wild meet Colorado in the playoffs for the first time since coach Jacques Lemaire's boys rallied from a three- games- to-one deficit to bounce the favored Avs and kick off a run to the Western Conference Final.  

Will the Avs play along this time? That's highly unlikely, but the Wild do have home-ice advantage this time, courtesy of their Northwest Division title. Plus, the Wild took the season series, five games to three.

"I think it shows the maturity and class we have in this locker room, that we understand it's going to take 20-plus guys to get the job done." Mark Parrish, discussing the Wild's chemistry
But it is not hyperbole to suggest there is a razor-thin difference between these two divisional rivals. Four of the games were decided by just one goal, including a shootout and an OT game. Two other two-goal decisions featured empty-net goals. In all, Minnesota scored 22 goals to Colorado's 19 in the series.

So expect this showdown to go deep into the schedule, which will be great, considering the talent on display.

The Avs are a veteran-laden team looking to make one more run. Colorado is led by the incomparable Joe Sakic, but also features other vets like Peter Forsberg, Ryan Smyth and Adam Foote. Forsberg and Foote, part of Colorado's glory years earlier this decade, were re-obtained in late February to bolster Colorado's chances.

"Peter Forsberg's legacy is assured in Colorado and that probably was an advantage that we had as an organization when we decided to bring him back. There isn't any pressure on him; he doesn't have to be a superstar. We want him to be himself.'' – Colorado Executive VP/GM Francois Giguere.
Plus, the team has a young superstar in Paul Stastny, who led the team with 71 points. Wojtek Wolski is another very good young player who has been blended into the Avs' arsenal.

Minnesota doesn't have as much individual talent, although Marian Gaborik topped 40 goals and Brian Rolston eclipsed the 30-goal mark. They do, however, play one of the most disciplined systems in the League.

Defense always has been a hallmark of Lemaire-coached teams and this season is no different. Five times this season, the Wild held Colorado to two goals or less.

It certainly helps, though, when you have a goalie of Niklas Backstrom's quality. The 30-year-old Finn posted a 2.31 goals-against average and a .920 save percentage this season.


Minnesota will win if -- It plays from ahead. While this advice may sound elemental, it is more important to the Wild than perhaps any other team in the postseason. Minnesota is not set up to be a come-from-behind team. If the Wild can claim a lead, especially after two periods, they are almost impossible to beat because of their positional detail and strong goaltending. 

Colorado will win if -- It can get its power play going. One of the reasons that Minnesota can be so hard to score upon is that it rarely gives up man-advantage goals. In fact, its 85.2 percent kill rate was the second-best in League. The Avs have been horrendous on the power play, hitting just 14.6 percent, the second-lowest mark in the League. That dynamic will have to change in this series.

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