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Wild ready for different style of play from Blackhawks

by Dan Myers /

ST. PAUL, Minn. -- The Minnesota Wild are preparing for a much different challenge than they faced in the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

The Wild will open their best-of-7 Western Conference Second Round series against the Chicago Blackhawks at the United Center on Friday (9:30 p.m. ET; NBCSN, SN, TVA Sports).

Minnesota will jump headfirst into the series Wednesday. The players had off entirely Monday and had an off-ice workout and optional skate Tuesday at Xcel Energy Center.

Wild coach Mike Yeo said they escaped their six-game win against the St. Louis Blues relatively healthy, but the days off between the end of that series and the start of the next one will help heal some bumps and bruises.

"We're very healthy, that's good; knock on wood," Yeo said. "We've got to try to stay healthy, that's always a huge factor. Now we're in a position where we get a little bit of rest and we can push really hard to get ready for Game 1."

After eliminating the Central Division-champion Blues in a series that was heated and physical, the Wild know it's probably going to be different this time around.

Having played the Blackhawks in each of their past two trips to the playoffs, there doesn't appear to be much hostility. The series against St. Louis was Minnesota's first against it, but it didn't take long for the tension to build.

"Probably a different [animosity]. I mean, I don't think that we love them," Yeo said. "They knocked us out a couple years in a row here. It's a different intensity in the game. There's not the scrums, there's not as much of that stuff going on after the whistles. That's probably a little bit more because the two teams are built differently. But it is a good rivalry. It's been that way. We certainly remember the feelings of getting knocked out twice by these guys."

The contrasting styles will present the Wild with a different challenge. Against St. Louis, Minnesota was able to use its speed to take advantage of specific matchups and try to avoid the more physical Blues.

In Chicago, they see an opponent build a lot like them, with plenty of speed and skill.

"[Chicago is a] much more puck-possession-style team," Wild forward Zach Parise said. "I think St. Louis is a lot more of quick up, dump it in and try and get on the forecheck, where Chicago makes more plays off the rush and holds on to the puck a lot more."

In many ways, the Blackhawks and Wild are very similar clubs. Each relies on possession and scoring off the rush. Each has mobile defensemen ready and willing to jump into the play.

"They play with a lot of pace," Yeo said. "When you have a team that's won a couple Cups like they have and they've had the playoff success, you have to play different kinds of games and beat different kinds of opponents. They've demonstrated that."

One of the keys in the series will be how Parise and linemates Jason Pominville and Mikael Granlund are able to fare. The line combined for 17 points in the first round; Parise led the Wild with three goals and seven points.

But Parise has struggled against the Blackhawks in recent playoffs. Last season, he scored one goal and had four points when Chicago won in six games. The year before, Parise had one point in a five-game defeat.

"They've got a good checking line that's tough to play against. They handle the puck really well, their [defensemen] can skate, so they don't give you a lot of room," Parise said. "That's something that we have to look at and be better with the puck and when we get chances. But the last couple games, as a line, we played well against them."

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