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With Plenty Of Respect, Wild Focused On Chicago

by Evan Sporer / Minnesota Wild

A day ahead of a its first game of the season against the Chicago Blackhawks, lots of questions were asked of the Wild regarding another meeting with a team it has faced in each of the past two postseasons. 

There's undoubtedly a high level of respect for the Blackhawks in the Wild's locker room, but this early in the season, all games are still about improving, regardless the opponent. 

"For sure you have to adjust the way the opponent plays, and what their strengths are," Mikko Koivu said. "It's a challenge with the defending champions, so you want to always play a good game.

"But it's more important that we play better as a team, and stay in our process right now."

It's a challenge the Wild faces many nights in the Central Division, which makes keeping the focus inward and not on the team across the ice a constant theme for Minnesota.

"It's always going to be a difficult game against them," Devan Dubnyk said. "It's exciting—obviously there's a rivalry there—but we just try to win games, and it's always going to be a tough one against Chicago."

There was plenty of praise for the defending Cup champions from the Wild, who has played the Blackhawks a combined 20 times over the past two seasons. And although this is a somewhat different Blackhawks roster after some offseason moves, the Wild has seen similar changes before.

"That's what you can do as an organization," Head Coach Mike Yeo said. "You can continue to have success, you can continue to move pieces in and out, but when you've got the main group that's there, and they're the ones that are stilling driving the bus, then a new group comes in.

"They've got that culture, they've got that winning culture, and the people that come in really have no choice but to get on board."

It's the second matchup for the Wild this season that's a rematch from the 2015 Stanley Cup Playoffs. Minnesota defeated the St. Louis Blues, 3-2, in the Wild's home opener after the two teams met in the first round last season.

"I started looking forward to it after our last game, and hadn't thought about it much before then," Yeo said of the Blackhawks game. "It's not hard to get excited to play against a team of that caliber, and obviously a good rivalry for us. There's a good past there, and it's a team that always forces you to be at your best if you're going to have any chance to win."

Yeo said Dubnyk will start against the Blackhawks, but did not reveal a starting goalie for the Wild's game Saturday against the Blues.

The Wild is simply taking things one game at a time, and its next is game number 10 of the season, and one that is not circled on the calendar.

"I try not to dig in that part of the game," Dubnyk said. "It doesn't really matter who I'm playing, my job doesn't change, so I try not to get too emotionally involved in games."

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