Last season’s back-and-forth, seven-game series between the Minnesota Wild and Colorado Avalanche became an instant classic in the State of Hockey. The Wild rode a Nino Niederreiter overtime wrist shot in the deciding game past the Avalanche and into the second round.
With a new season and a budding rivalry building between the two teams, Wild Head Coach Mike Yeo wants last year’s series to stay where it is: In the rear-view mirror.
“This is not Game 8 of the playoffs,” Yeo said. “This is game one of the regular season.
“What happened last year is last year.”
However, in the tightly contested Central Division, the team’s bench boss didn’t downplay the animosity between the clubs. Throw in the traction of a nationally televised game on NBC Sports Network, the primetime 8 p.m. start and Xcel Energy Center crowd that will be revving like a Hemi engine, and you can expect two charged up teams at puck drop.
“You’re starting with a rivalry right off the hop,” Yeo said. “Every team wants to get off to a good start. It’s going to force us to be good. We have a lot of respect for that team over there, so it should be a fun game.”
Nothing against the mid-winter contests, but the postseason is when the foundation for true disdain builds, and the divisional playoff format will have familiar foes facing off more often. The contempt that was established in the spring will not drop like an autumn leaf.
“It’s two teams that are going to have the same core players for a long time and play a lot of games against each other. With the way the playoffs are set up, most likely see each other in the playoffs quite a bit, too,” Wild forward Zach Parise said. “It’s building and it’s getting there, but I think it was a good start last year.”
The Game 7 hero, Niederreiter, is one of the players that the Wild will rely upon in future battles, but wants to take another step forward beginning tonight. The forward will skate on a line with Erik Haula and Charlie Coyle, all under the age of 23.
The youngsters showed that they weren’t intimidated by the big stage or playoff pressure last season, and hope to carry that momentum into the beginning of this one.
“I feel like we’re a fast line,” Niederreiter said. “We want to play well defensively, but when we have the chance to go on the rush and play down low we have to use our bodies, get shots on net and play with our strengths.”
The Wild will lean on a pair of youngsters on the blue line, defensemen Matt Dumba and Christian Folin. They had strong camps to earn a spot in the Opening Night lineup and both got a taste of the NHL last season. The duo isn’t intimated by the gravity of the rivalry.
“Tentative isn’t really in my skill set,” Dumba laughed. “Defensive pairing, we’re both pretty calm. Christian is more of a calming presence and slows things down.”
For Dumba, watching the Wild and Avs playoff series last season gave him a good understanding of what to expect tonight at Xcel Energy Center.
“It’s crazy, a crazy atmosphere. Definitely in the playoffs you saw how intense it was and the rivalry we’ve kind of established now,” Dumba said.
However, like your average 20-year-old, Dumba’s not hung up on reminiscing.
“Making that next play is kind of our team slogan,” Dumba said. “So we’ll stick to that.”