If goals were a stock, their value would skyrocket every April during the Stanley Cup Playoffs. With 16 teams trying to recess the market in scoring opportunities, the club that can blue-chip-in its chances will see the greatest dividends in the postseason.
In the last three years, the National Hockey League has averaged 5.33 goals per game during the regular season. During that span, the goals per game average has dipped to 5.16 in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. While those numbers might look insignificant, every marker matters when the payoff is a Lord Stanley’s silver chalice just as every penny matters on Wall Street.
The Minnesota Wild and St. Louis Blues were two of the most bearish teams in the NHL this season. The Blues ranked fifth in goals against average (2.40), while Minnesota was sixth (2.42). After the acquisition of Devan Dubnyk on Jan. 14 the Wild became stingier than a timid investor, allowing a league-low 71 goals against in 40 games (1.76 per game).
Minnesota believes scoring chances in the series are going to be as prized as Apple stock.
“We know we don’t have as much space as we do in the regular season,” forward Nino Niederreiter said. “Everything is going to be a lot tighter. It’s going to be a hard-fought game out there.
“We just have to make sure we create offense as early as possible in the series, get a lot of pucks on the net. I feel like that’s got to be the key.”
The Swiss forward said it would be important to have a shooter's mentality and to get into the high-traffic areas in front of the net to generate second chances.
The Wild has more of an offensive punch than it has in its previous two trips to the playoffs. The club set a single-season record for goals with 227. It’s the most talented roster of Wild Head Coach Mike Yeo’s tenure, one that has relied on different players to add to the offense all season.
“We have some skill and we have the ability to make some plays and I think more so than we have in the past,” Wild Head Coach Mike Yeo said. “We’ve got that skill throughout our entire lineup. We believe we have four lines that are capable of scoring. A defense group that’s able to be a part of our rush attack, but also be a factor in the offensive zone.”
Rookie Matt Dumba will be getting his first shares of Stanley Cup Playoff experience. It seems like only yesterday, last year to be precise, that the blueliner was dreaming of playing in the NHL’s postseason. The defenseman has been a boon on the blue line this year, posting eight goals and eight assists in 58 games. He can be a force from the backend, but he understands it is important not to try and force the action.
“Being smart, waiting for your opportunities,” Dumba said. “I think in playoff hockey, you might throw a puck towards the net and it just has eyes. It’s not really going out and trying to look for that amazing play; it’s just making good play after good play and staying within yourself. It really is a chess match. You can’t play run-and-gun in the playoffs; just stay patient and wait for the opportunity.”
The best opportunities often come from special teams. However, those power play chances seem to dissolve in the postseason quicker than money in a Ponzi scheme. The Wild’s power play was inconsistent throughout the regular season, but showed flashes a various points of the year, including scoring three power play tallies against the Blues in four meetings. The club believes it can cash in during the second season.
“Special teams are so important, whether it’s scoring a goal, getting momentum, or just not getting frustrated with it if things don’t go our way,” forward Jason Pominville said. “They’re a team that has a good special teams, whether it’s PK or PP. We have the ability to be good as well. We just have to go out there and prove it.
“At times we’ve been really good, at times we’ve had a little bit of a tougher go, but that’s why we start at scratch in the playoffs. We’ve got to find a way to build.”
The Wild has used the last two days of practice for additional special teams work. The club would dry scrape the ice and devote the entire second-half to the man advantage and penalty kill. Yeo said that he liked the way the units were moving the puck and shooting over in preparation for Game 1 on Thursday in St. Louis.
If the Wild isn’t able to get it going on the power play, it will lean on its penalty kill. Minnesota had the NHL’s best PK during the regular season (86.3 percent) and the club knows it can generate offense with a strong 5-on-5 game.
“Even though there’s been some frustration, at different points of the season, to continue to go out and win hockey games even though our power play was not necessarily at the top of the League,” Yeo said.
In the postseason, it is the small investments that often lead to the big paydays.
“It’s a face-off that you win; it’s a turnover that you create; it’s puck placement,” Yeo said. “It’s a sharpness to your game, just recognizing how important each little part is.
“Every detail when you play against a team like (the Blues) is important.”
Cooke Sits Out With Discomfort
Matt Cooke didn’t participate in the team’s practice today. He was feeling some discomfort, but it wasn’t related to the sports hernia surgery that kept him out of 31 straight games from early February until April 9. Yeo said that he doesn’t think the discomfort will keep him out for long and could still see action in Game 1 on Thursday.
“He’s definitely a possibility,” Yeo said. “It would be a matter of us deciding if he’s not 100 percent then we wouldn’t put him in.”
Today, Ryan Carter skated on the wing with the fourth line of Kyle Brodziak and Justin Fontaine, and Yeo said that the club has options depending on the direction it wants to go in the opener.
Local Broadcast Schedule
FOX Sports North will televise Games 1, 3 and 4 of the First Round of the series. While NBC will nationally televise Game 2, FOX Sports North will air a one-hour Wild Live pregame show and extended postgame analysis for all games. FOX Sports North telecasts will also be available on FOX Sports Wisconsin. The broadcast schedule for Games 5, 6 and 7 will be announced if necessary.
KFAN will broadcast Wild Fanline following each playoff game. There will also be live, 90-minute pregame shows for Games 1, 2 and 4. Pregame show schedules to be announced for Games 5, 6 and 7, if necessary.