1. Battle of the Boards: The Minnesota Wild deserved all the credit they got in upsetting the Colorado Avalanche in seven games. Fact of the matter is, they could have finished the Avs off in five had it not been for some shaky goaltending and refereeing. They do a great job of getting pucks deep, retrieving them and cycling the biscuit. Big bodies up front in Charlie Coyle, Mikko Koivu, Matt Moulson, Nino Niederreiter, Cody McCormick and Dany Heatley are good at protecting the puck along the boards once they get it. Mikael Granlund and Erik Haula aren’t real big, but they are competitive in puck areas all over the ice. I thought a huge part of Chicago’s win against St. Louis was their tenacity on the boards, especially in the offensive zone. Win the boards and you have a better chance of winning this game.
2. Own the faceoff circles: The Wild are one of the better teams in the NHL in the faceoff department. We have the top two faceoff men in the playoffs in Jonathan Toews (61.9%) and Koivu (60.9%). Granlund and Haula are both in the top 10 for remaining players in the post season. The Wild at one point in Game 7 against the Avs held a 13-4 advantage (wins to losses) in the faceoff department. This led them to outshoot Colorado by 13 shots in that pivotal game. Especially in the offensive zone, faceoffs establish possession and lead to zone time. Win your draws and be the puck possession team that creates chances.
3. Forecheck for Wild is a strength: Gone are the days of Jacques Lemaire and his Wild who employed a neutral zone blanket. They spent very little time pestering defensemen, instead relying on a five-man clog between the blue lines. Head coach Mike Yeo’s squad is different in this respect. Minnesota chases the puck like it’s a Rottweiler chasing dinner. Throw in the fact that the D men like to pinch, and you know that you have your work cut out for you as an opposition defenseman. They might not be as aggressive as they were on Colorado’s defense, but just know that if you turn it over in your zone, it’s tough to get it back from an excellent cycling team. Break the forecheck and you may get some odd man rushes.