Myers: 5 keys for the Wild to make a successful playoff run
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ST. PAUL, Minn. - Under legendary goalie Patrick Roy, in his first season as their head coach, the Colorado Avalanche went from worst to first in their division, winning the Central, and earning a date with the Minnesota Wild - who finished fourth - in round one of the playoffs.
The first time these two franchises met in the playoffs, 11 years ago, Roy was on the ice, and played his final NHL game in the series finale, giving up a game seven overtime goal to Andrew Brunette in what still ranks as the greatest moment in franchise history.
This will be the seventh playoff series for the Wild as a franchise. Only twice have the Wild been the higher seed, and they've lost both times, including in 2008 when they won their only division title and were bounced by the Avalanche in round one.
Colorado made a hard charge at the end of the season to overtake the St. Louis Blues and win the division. They're one of the hottest teams in the NHL heading into the playoffs. Still there's always a way, right?
Here is a quintet of keys that the Wild must focus on if they hope to be playing in May:
1) Shut down the new guy.
Nathan MacKinnon followed a route paved by another product of the Cole Harbour, Nova Scotia, youth hockey system (named Sidney Crosby) to the NHL, playing for Shattuck-St. Mary's in Faribault, then being selected number one overall in the NHL draft. He's been as good as advertised in his rookie year and is a virtual shoo-in for the NHL's rookie of the year, playing in all but one of the Avs games and finishing fourth on the team with 63 points. Still, MacKinnon has never played in the spotlight of the NHL playoffs and may be susceptible to shadowing. Colorado has five players with 20 goals or more, so it's not like you can shut down one line and have success, but taking the rookie out of the mix couldn't hurt.
2) Shoot early, shoot often.
No, Colorado's best goalie is not wearing and suit and screaming on the bench. Roy's top goalie is Seymon Varlamov, who started 60 games and won 41 of them. Behind him is Jean-Sebastien Giguere, who still gives Wild fans nightmares more than a decade after he shut them out in the playoffs three times for Anaheim. One suspects that typical of the playoffs, there will be few pretty goals to be had, and getting pucks to the Colorado crease early and often will be the key to having success versus this rock-solid netminding duo.
3) Get the new guys involved.
The Wild and Avalanche met four times in the regular season (with the Wild going 0-3-1 in those affairs) but their last get-together was Jan. 30 in Denver, meaning that the Avs haven't faced the new-look, post-trades Wild. So there may be a little element of surprise, throwing Matt Moulson's offense and Illya Bryzgalov's goaltending at them. "Minny, since the trade when they got Moulson and Bryzgalov, they've been playing well," Avalanche forward Paul Stastny told the Denver Post. "They're always good defensively. All games with them were really close games this year. It's going to be a tough series. I think all the matchups in the West are probably going to go six or seven games."
4) Win on the road.
In the Wild's previous playoff series wins - and granted, they were 11 years ago - they surprised Colorado and Vancouver by winning the opening game of the series and setting the tone that they'd be a tough out. They did similar work a year ago, taking Chicago to double overtime in the opener of their playoff series, before falling in the game and bowing out 4-1 in the series. A team needs 16 wins to earn a summer with the Stanley Cup. Getting the first of those 16 out of the way in game one, on the road, can go a long way.
5) Stay healthy.
Jason Pominville - he of the 30 regular season goals - is healthy, unlike the start of the playoffs last season. Zach Parise and Mikko Koivu, both of whom missed significant regular season time, are healthy. Mikael Granlund closed the regular season on the shelf, but is expected to return for game one. This is as close to full strength as the Wild have been all season, and probably as close as they will be, with the notoriously rough-and-tumble playoffs beginning.
This is year two since the marquee additions of Parise and Ryan Suter, and the Wild are in the playoffs again at least in part because of their presence. Coach Mike Yeo is still not fully comfortable, and may need to make an impression in late April to quell talk about his longevity in Minnesota. Despite facing the division champions right out of the gate it's clear that the confidence is growing, and the Wild fully expected to get further down the road than the one postseason win they recorded last time around.