The Blackhawks and Wild will clash in the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the third consecutive season, and both teams will quickly find out this year's matchup won't be like the previous two.
In 2013, Chicago rolled past an inexperienced Minnesota team in five first-round games. Last season, it took six games in the second round before the Blackhawks eventually eliminated the Wild, who lacked the depth to dethrone the reigning Stanley Cup champions.
"We really didn't have much of a chance against them a couple years ago, to be honest," Zach Parise said.
They do now.
Experienced and deep, the Wild don't just feel they'll be able to keep up with the Blackhawks. They're confident they can get past them.
Let's take a look at how the two teams stack up in 2015 compared to 2013 and 2014.
|Hawks (36-7-5, 77 points)||1st (+53)||3rd (3.10)||1st (2.02)||1st (1.52)||19th (16.7%)||3rd (87.2%)||5th (31.1)||4th (26.2)|
|Wild (26-19-3, 55 points)||18th (-5)||22nd (2.46)||15th (2.60)||24th (0.88)||16th (17.9%)||18th (80.7%)||17th (28.8)||6th (27.1)|
*Chicago won series 4-1 in first round
|Hawks (46-21-15, 107 points)||5th (+47)||2nd (3.18)||12th (2.58)||4th (1.27)||10th (19.5%)||19th (81.4%)||3rd (33.1)||4th (27.2)|
|Wild (43-27-12, 98 points)||15th (+1)||24th (2.43)||7th (2.42)||8th (1.15)||16th (17.9%)||27th (78.8%)||29th (26.6)||5th (27.7)|
*Chicago won series 4-2 in second round
|Hawks (48-28-6, 102 points)||4th (+40)||17th (2.68)||2nd (2.27)||4th (1.19)||20th (17.6%)||10th (83.4%)||1st (33.9)||22nd (30.2)|
|Wild (46-28-8, 100 points)||7th (+30)||12th (2.77)||6th (2.42)||9th (1.14)||27th (15.8%)||1st (86.3%)||12th (30.8)||4th (27.6)|
The case for Chicago
The Blackhawks finished the campaign as one of the best puck-possession teams, ranking inside the top-5 in even strength play and first in shots on goal. Combine that with a team that knows what it takes to win in April-June, and Chicago remains the favorite to not only knock off the Wild, but come out of the West.
The case against Chicago
While the Blackhawks' shots on goal have increased every year since 2013, so has their shots allowed. And it did so dramatically from 2014 to 2015, which resulted in a penalty kill that descended to 10th by season's end after ranking first for the majority of the year. It got them into trouble in their first-round matchup against Nashville, which outshot Chicago by an average of 4 per game, but the Blackhawks' experience at closing games prevailed. It may not against Minnesota.
The case for Minnesota
The statistic that jumps out is the Wild's significant improvement on defense since 2013, particularly the penalty kill. They've always hovered near the top of the league in least amount of goals allowed and shots allowed under Mike Yeo, but the in-season acquisition of Devan Dubnyk in addition to a shored up blue line may cause headaches for the Blackhawks.
The case against Minnesota
The other part of the Wild's special teams is their biggest concern. After sitting in the middle of the pack (16th) in 2013 and 2014, their power play slipped near the bottom (27th) in 2015. Minnesota had success in its first-round series against St. Louis, going 4-for-12 on the man advantage, but can they get by Chicago if it dries up?