For the third consecutive Stanley Cup Playoffs, the Minnesota Wild faces Central Division foe the Chicago Blackhawks. Of course, the Wild looks to alter the outcome this go-round, as the Hawks have eliminated Minnesota from contention the past two postseasons.
For the second time in as many years, the Wild meets the Hawks in Round 2. Last season, Minnesota didn’t have much time to prep for Chicago after defeating the Colorado Avalanche in Game 7 of the first round.
This time, both clubs have plenty of time to rest and recuperate before meeting in the Conference semifinals. Minnesota and the Blackhawks have a few days to prepare for the series. The clubs will square of in Game 1 at the United Center on Friday at 8:30 p.m. Today, the Wild skated in an optional practice at Xcel Energy Center. The club will practice two more times on its home rink before heading to the Windy City on Thursday.
Clearly, the Wild is familiar with the Hawks. In the last three years, Minnesota has faced the Blackhawks 24 times in the regular season and playoffs, going 9-14-1. However, only three of those victories have come in the postseason, a record the Wild is hoping to improve.
“From the guys that are still here, that were here in that first year, it’s a lot different,” Wild forward Zach Parise said. “We’re playing better — we feel like we’re playing better. I think we’ve improved over the last couple of years.”
Chicago has been one of the League’s models for playoff success. After eliminating the Wild in the opening round in 2013, the Hawks went on to win its second Stanley Cup in four years. Last season, Chicago lost in the Western Conference Finals to the eventual champs, Los Angeles Kings.
“They’ve been the team to beat — them and LA — they’ve been the teams to beat in the Western Conference in the last couple of years,” Parise said. “When you get a chance to play them, you see where you’re at. If you want to get out of the West, you’ve got to beat them. It seems like they’re in the Conference Finals every year and playing for the Stanley Cup.”
This year, the Wild lost its opening three games against Chicago. However, Minnesota won the final two meetings, including a 2-1 playoff clinching victory in Chicago on April 7. Minnesota hasn’t won a game at the United Center in six playoff games in the past two seasons — something it will have to change with the Hawks owning home ice.
“It’s not a secret that we haven’t had any success in the playoffs there the last couple years,” Parise said. “It is a hard building, but we’ve been playing well on the road, so that’s a good sign for us.”
To beat the St. Louis Blues, Minnesota won two games away from the State of Hockey. The team’s first round win against St. Louis saw some chippy play at times, something that the Wild and Hawks have seemingly avoided in the last three years. But don’t think there’s any love lost between the two organizations.
“It’s a different intensity in the game. There’s not the scrums, not as much of that stuff going on after the whistles, but that’s probably a little bit more because the two teams are built differently,” Wild Head Coach Mike Yeo said. “But it is a good rivalry. It’s been that way. We certainly remember the feelings of getting knocked out twice by these guys.”
Minnesota knows firsthand how dangerous the Blackhawks are in the postseason. The Wild wants to be one of the National Hockey League’s elite and believes it is a contender this season, but knows it has to prove it out on the ice.
“All we have right now is an opportunity to keep pushing here and prove that we are better, and prove that we’re up to the task of knocking off a great hockey team,” Yeo said. “They’re playoff proven. They always seem to elevate their game this time of year and obviously they’ve got that experience.
“It’s up to us to rise to that challenge.”
Round 2 Schedule
The Wild opens the series in Chicago at 8:30 p.m. State of Hockey Time on Friday, May 1. Game 2 is in Chicago at 7:30 p.m.
The series will shift back to Minnesota for Games 3 and 4 at Xcel Energy Center. Game 3 is set for Tuesday, May 5 at 7 p.m., and Game 4 will commence at 8:30 p.m on, Thrusday May 7.
If necessary: Game 5 will be in Chicago on Saturday, May 9; Game 6 will be in Minnesota on Monday, May 11; and Game 7 will be on Wednesday, May 13 in Chicago. Those game times will be determined, if necessary. Go here for the schedule.