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Wild prep Heatley for Game 1 power play

by Brian Hedger

CHICAGO -- The Minnesota Wild know their power play must be more of a threat against the Chicago Blackhawks than it was a year ago in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, and they are hopeful Dany Heatley can help.

Chicago didn't allow a power-play goal against Minnesota in 12 man-advantages during a five-game Western Conference Quarterfinal series.

Wild players who experienced that drought haven't forgotten heading into their Western Conference Second Round series against the Blackhawks that starts with Game 1 Friday at United Center (9:30 p.m. ET; NBCSN, TSN, RDS).

"I thought we got a couple [power-play goals] in the regular season [against Chicago this year] but that's the regular season, it doesn't really matter," Minnesota left wing Zach Parise said. "It did frustrate us last year. I don't think we got one on them the whole series. To me, that's an area that we have to be a lot better at this year."

Minnesota coach Mike Yeo made a noticeable lineup tweak during the morning skate by practicing the power play with veteran forward Dany Heatley in front of the net on the top unit. Heatley missed the series against the Blackhawks last season and was scratched for the first two games in the first round against the Colorado Avalanche this year.

After scoring a goal with two assists in Game 7 on Wednesday at Pepsi Center, Heatley (6-foot-4, 220 pounds) is picking up his level of play at a good time for the Wild. They could use a good net-front presence in this series against the Blackhawks, who start 6-2, 208-pound Corey Crawford in net.

"He's one of the best net-front guys in the League," Parise said of Heatley. "He gets his stick on everything, he's tough to move [and] he'll provide a good screen, I think, especially the way they like to penalty kill. I think having him in front there will help us out."

The Blackhawks' penalty kill started this season horribly.

Chicago ranked near the bottom of the NHL for much of the first half. It steadily progressed to get back to the level that helped the Blackhawks win the 2013 Stanley Cup. Chicago snuffed out 27 of 29 St. Louis Blues power plays in a six-game series victory in the Western Conference First Round, which prompted comparisons to last season.

Captain Jonathan Toews, asked after morning skate Friday whether the Blackhawks truly are back to their suffocating style while shorthanded, nodded in agreement.

"I would say that," said Toews, who plays out top on the first unit with right wing Marian Hossa. "It has to be [that level] this time of year, when you consider how we started out the year. It wasn't very good at all. Our ranking wasn't that great the end of the year, [but] we have guys paying the price and doing what we need to do to win this time of year."

One of the guys paying the physical toll to block shots is veteran forward Michal Handzus, who drew chants of "Zeus!" from Blackhawks fans at United Center.

Handzus and forward Ben Smith have stepped into key roles on the penalty kill that were vacated by offseason trades that sent forwards Dave Bolland to the Toronto Maple Leafs and Michael Frolik to the Winnipeg Jets.

Bolland and Frolik logged a lot of shorthanded time last season and their absence was felt early into the regular season. Chemistry and timing were lacking with their replacements and it took the rest of the season to slowly gain that back.

"We were in the box a little more than we wanted to be in round one, so we'll try and work on that, but if we have to kill off penalties we have that confidence that we're going to get the goaltending or get the guys working to try and do the job," Toews said. "It's something we have to continue doing against [the Wild]."

Goalie Ilya Bryzgalov will start for the Wild in Game 1 because Darcy Kuemper is out with an upper-body injury sustained in Game 7 against Colorado. John Curry, who's 30 years old and has played in six NHL games, will dress for the first time in the playoffs as Minnesota's backup.

Toews, who missed practice Thursday feeling ill, participated in Chicago's skate Friday and will center the top line in his usual spot.

Here are the projected lineups:


Zach Parise - Mikael Granlund - Jason Pominville

Matt Moulson - Mikko Koivu - Charlie Coyle

Nino Niederreiter - Kyle Brodziak - Dany Heatley

Stephane Veilleux - Erik Haula - Cody McCormick

Ryan Suter - Jared Spurgeon

Marco Scandella - Jonas Brodin

Clayton Stoner - Nate Prosser

Ilya Bryzgalov

John Curry

Scratched: Justin Fontaine, Mike Rupp, Jon Blum, Keith Ballard

Injured: Darcy Kuemper (upper body), Josh Harding (illness), Niklas Backstrom (abdominal surgery), Jason Zucker (quad)

Suspended: Matt Cooke (until Game 4)


Bryan Bickell - Jonathan Toews - Marian Hossa

Patrick Sharp - Ben Smith - Patrick Kane

Brandon Saad - Marcus Kruger - Andrew Shaw

Brandon Bollig - Michal Handzus - Kris Versteeg

Duncan Keith - Brent Seabrook

Johnny Oduya - Niklas Hjalmarsson

Nick Leddy - Michal Rozsival

Corey Crawford

Antti Raanta

Scratched: Peter Regin, David Rundblad, Jeremy Morin, Joakim Nordstrom, Klas Dahlbeck

Injured: Nikolai Khabibulin (rotator cuff surgery)

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