I've never been more happy to be wrong.
I said the #mnwild would win in seven. Do I care about being wrong? Of course not. #nhlplayoffsPicking the series to go seven games really wasn't that big of a deal, especially if you look at the history. Before Sunday, the Wild have never won a playoff series in less than seven games, and those were all on the road, a couple after being down 3-1 in the series. But either way, the Wild won, and we can mark that in the history books.
— Heather Rule (@hlrule) April 26, 2015
The Wild got on the board thanks to a shorthanded goal from the hardest-working and grittiest player on the team, Zach Parise. He brought the puck into the zone all alone with speed, skated past defender Kevin Shattenkirk and finally took a sharp-angle shot from the goal line. It was a pretty soft goal for Blues goalie Jake Allen to let through.
About halfway through the second period, Blues coach Ken Hitchcock got interviewed for the national TV broadcast. He was asked about the soft goal and the possibility of pulling his goaltender. He dismissed that, saying you have to stick with the young kid.
A couple minutes after that, the Wild had a 2-on-2 rush into the zone, with Justin Fontaine as the puck carrier. He took a soft shot from the slot, and once again it somehow made it through Allen and into the net. That got Allen the hook.
You were saying, Hitch?
It looked like the Wild would lead 2-0 after two periods. Then I saw the fans at Xcel Energy Center start the wave. Next thing you know, T.J. Oshie, who was virtually absent on the stat sheets during the series, scored with four seconds left in the second, making it a 2-1 margin. I hope people at least learned their lesson about the wave.
Ugh. It seemed like a huge momentum killer, ala Minnesota sports. But then a minute into the third, the Wild did exactly what they needed to do: Parise scored his second of the game. As they say, the next goal is huge, and the Wild made sure they got it.
Another empty netter clinched the series for the Wild. Then the party was on. Time to celebrate the first playoff series win at home, ever.
For the third year in a row, the Wild must face the Chicago Blackhawks to move forward in the postseason. Chicago ousted the Wild in five games in the 2013 first round and in six games in last year's second round. But if you remember last year, the Wild played a good series and didn't have the luck, apparently. It was a bad bounce off a stanchion that led to the series-winning goal. Ouch.
So far, we've heard that this year's Wild team is different. Obviously, it's been one of the hottest teams during the second half, thanks to the trade for goalie Devan Dubnyk (broken record, if you don't know that by now). I've also heard about the maturity and experience this Wild team has compared to the team a couple years ago.
It's all encouraging, and I do think the team is in a much better position than in the past. But I still don't like the Chicago matchup. Of course, they have the dangerous players that are just so talented. As I watched Chicago take down Nashville in the opening round though, I realized something: Chicago has a New York Yankee-like mystique.
Leading the series 3-2, the Blackhawks were down 3-0 in game six and pulled their goalie. But they came back to tie it up, then scored the game winner with something like three minutes left in the game. That's just a killer.
This team finds a way to win hockey games, whether they were the better team or not. They play physical, and they know how to score goals and kill any momentum for other teams.
Then there's Bryan Bickell, perhaps the biggest Minnesota sports killer ever. At least he's high on the list. He is not known for his offense when you look at his stats, except against the Wild. He has 15 goals in the past 22 regular season and playoff games against the Wild. He scored twice in the third period in a 4-2 Chicago win back on Jan. 8.
I don't know what it is, but it's gotten to the point where you feel like the Wild start the game already down 1-0 when he's on the ice. The Wild better be prepared to get that guy out of the way. Keep him off the puck, and get him out of the play completely. He's the kind of player where goals will bounce off his pinky toe and go in.
With this Wild team a little better, I'll say the series goes one more game than last year. I'm sticking with seven games.
My prediction: Wild beat the Blackhawks in seven games. #Becauseitsthecup
Yeo on Blackhawks: "They've beaten us two years in a row. It's up to us to prove something is different."
— RandBall (@RandBall) April 29, 2015