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Iowa hopes for continued special teams excellence in decisive Game 5

Iowa has been among the best on both the power play and penalty kill so far in the playoffs

by Dan Myers @MNWildScribe /

MILWAUKEE -- If the two most important aspects of a team's playoff chances are special teams and goaltending, the Iowa Wild already has one critical advantage in its series against the Milwaukee Admirals. 

As the series comes down to a winner-take-all Game 5 tonight at UW-Milwaukee Panther Arena, the Wild just hopes it can maintain the clear edge in special teams that it has experienced so far.

Through the first four games, Iowa has killed all 18 of Milwaukee's power play chances in the series and scored one short-handed goal of its own. The Wild is the only team in the AHL playoffs that has yet to surrender a power-play goal, while 12 of the 16 teams that played in the first round scored at least two goals on the man advantage.

 "We've limited the number of chances, but they've had some good ones. And when we've needed a big stop, we've gotten it," said Iowa coach Tim Army. "They've had their looks, but the best penalty kills are when your goalie [is playing well]."

Iowa defenseman Hunter Warner, one of the team's top killing defensemen, said the group has done an excellent job committing sticks and bodies into shooting lanes. 

That, in turn, has made it difficult for Milwaukee to get clean looks at the net. The Admirals, who ranked 23rd in the AHL in PP success during the regular season, have then had to make adjustments and change personnel in an effort to do something different. 

Video: Iowa set for Game 5 vs. Milwaukee

"People are blocking shots and they're having a tough time getting them to the net," said Wild forward Kyle Rau, another critical penalty killer. "And when they do, our goalie is there to make a big save."

Confidence has also been a key.

Iowa started the series by killing seven penalties in the two games in Des Moines, which carried over to Game 3, where the Wild killed six more. 

A shot off the post in Game 4 kept the Wild's PK ledger clean for the series, as have a couple of timely saves from goaltender Andrew Hammond.

On the flip side, Iowa has scored five power-play goals of its own, highlighted by two of them in a 5-4 overtime loss in Game 4. 

The five goals scored with the man advantage are tied for first among all 16 playoff teams ... all of this against an Admirals team that had the AHL's third-best penalty kill during the regular season (85 percent). 

Video: Iowa: 'Energy bunny' providing playoff spark

Rau, who finished tied for the AHL lead in power-play goals during the regular season, has another one in the playoffs, and likely would have had a second had Cal O'Reilly's shot not deflected in off a defenseman's skate in Game 4. Rau was all alone on the backdoor waiting for O'Reilly's pass. 

"They are a really good penalty killing team, but I think we've gotten more chemistry," Rau said. "We've gotten a couple of good bounces too."

Hammond has shown an ability to bounce back from tough games all season and has been the Wild's backbone in must-win games down the stretch. He was in the crease for each of the final "must-win" games in the regular season, and has been Iowa's starter in all four playoff contests.

Army said the decision to come back with Hammond off a tough game was an easy one because the veteran has proven that he can play big in big spots.

Combine a steady performance in the crease with its so-far solid special teams and Iowa hopes it has a good recipe for getting things done in Game 5. 

"Any time you go into a game, you want to win the special teams battle," Rau said. "We've been doing that. We haven't gotten the result yet, but we need to continue doing that tonight."

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