When the Blackhawks faced the Minnesota Wild in the 2013 Western Conference quarterfinals, most had a pretty good idea of how the series would go.
The Blackhawks were entering the postseason with a head of steam; it was the lockout-shortened season in which the Blackhawks started on a 21-0-3 tear and never looked back. The Wild, meanwhile, had to fight until game No. 48 to get into the postseason. So it wasn’t surprising that the Blackhawks eliminated Minnesota in five games that spring.
Much has changed since then. Last year when the two teams met, it was much closer with the Blackhawks fighting all the way to send the Wild home in six games. And considering how the Wild came on the second half of this season, the Blackhawks are expecting the tussle of their postseason lives in this round.
Indeed, this is not your older brother’s Minnesota Wild.
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“You can see from the regular season, how they got in the playoffs and how they played in thefirst round, [that] it’s going to be a different team than the previous years,” Bryan Bickell said. “So we’re excited to be in the second round and have home ice.”
The Blackhawks face a very tricky test in the Wild. In the last two regular-season meetings (aka the Devan Dubnyk era), the Wild beat the Blackhawks both times, holding them to just one goal. The Wild also enter this series as confident as the Blackhawks do; Minnesota eliminated the St. Louis Blues in Game 6 on Sunday afternoon with Dubnyk and Zach Parise having a noticeably strong series. Dubnyk went 4-2-0 with a 2.32 goals-against average and .913 save percentage. Parise had three goals and four assists in those six games, including two goals on Sunday.
“We feel like it’s going to be a long, hard-fought series but you never know. Anything can happen,” Corey Crawford said. “We have to be prepared to play our best. That team’s been getting better and better every year.”
The Wild is a different team than it was two seasons ago. Actually, it’s not even the same Wild team the Blackhawks faced five months ago; the Wild’s resurgence from mid-January until now was astounding. The Blackhawks are taking the Wild very seriously, as well they should.
“They’re a good hockey team and they had an amazing run to get into the playoffs. They’ve got a lot of confidence. They play an excellent team game. They’ve got some speed, quickness. They’ve gained a lot of momentum at this time of the year off what they’ve achieved,” coach Joel Quenneville said. “I think we’re very familiar with their team, what they’re capable of doing and knowing that we’ve got a great challenge in front of us.”