Jan 23, 2014; Saint Paul, MN, USA; Chicago Blackhawks forward Patrick Sharp (10) exchanges words with Minnesota Wild forward Matt Cooke (24) in the third period at Xcel Energy Center. The Wild won 2-1. Mandatory Credit: Marilyn Indahl-USA TODAY Sports

A Wild Q & A With Minnesota's Gone Puck Wild

The Blackhawks play the Minnesota Wild for the second consecutive year.  The Blackhawks easily beat the Wild 4-1 last season in the opening round of the Stanley Cup playoffs as the Blackhawks began their march to their 5th Stanley Cup. This year the teams meet up in the second round after the Wild survived a Game #7 overtime on the road.  I caught up with Dakota Case from the Fansided Minnesota Wild site Gone Puck Wild for a Q & A session and here is how it went.

BU Q1. Will Kuemper be the definite starter if healthy, or is the starting job still up in the air?
A1 GPW-That’s the million dollar question, isn’t it? Will Kuemper be healthy? If he is, he gets the nod. If not, well then it’s the Ilya Bryzgalov show. Fortunately, Minnesota’s goaltenders have all risen to the occasion when called upon throughout the season. I don’t see why that changes in the postseason.

BU Q2. If the Parise line and the Toews line completely negate each other, who will need to step it up for the Wild to score?

A2 GPW-The nice thing about this year is that Minnesota has been getting production from every line. In addition, head coach Mike Yeo has the talent and flexibility available to him to where he can mix and match lines to get the desired outcome. There are so many interchangeable pieces on this team, whether it’s Koivu and Granlund, Brodziak and Haula, Spurgeon and Brodin, or any combo of Wild wingers that are swapping places, this roster has proven itself to be a living, breathing organism that can’t be defined by set lines.

If one line is shutdown, another will produce. We saw it in Game Seven against Colorado. Parise was held off the score sheet and even had a negative-1 rating. So, what happens? Niederreiter, Brodziak and Heatley combine for three goals and nine total points. Someone will always find a way to break through.

BU Q3. What’s the biggest challenge for Ryan Suter coming up against Chicago’s depth?

GPW A3. I honestly can’t think of any. As long as he plays his game and sticks to the system, he’ll be fine. While he’ll still be Minnesota’s leader in time on ice, the emergence of the team’s young defenders may actually make this series easier on him than last year’s. Spurgeon and Scandella have improved by leaps and bounds, and now know what it takes to win in the postseason. Brodin has had a bit of a sophomore slump defensively, but his offense is much improved and his confidence will build with every game.

BU Q4. What adjustments need to be made after playing against a team with poor defense to a team like the ‘Hawks that don’t have any glaring weakness?

GPW A4- Minnesota just needs to keep playing the way they’ve been playing.

After decisively taking the regular season series with a 3-1-1 record, there’s honestly no reason why Minnesota can’t beat Chicago. Aside from Boston, no other team has played as many games in the past calendar year than the Blackhawks. They’ve dealt with injuries, they’ve been battered, bruised and have got to be tired even if they won’t admit it. Plus, half the roster didn’t get a break during the Olympics. The Wild just needs to throw the kitchen sink at them. Dominate puck possession when they can, at other times, dump the puck and go to town on Chicago’s defensemen.

Finally, I’m sorry, but Crawford isn’t Varlamov–and that’s not a compliment. Next to MacKinnon, Varlamov was my biggest worry going into the Western Conference quarterfinals. Minnesota finally realized there was no beating the brick wall Varlamov butterflied into, so they shot the puck high, and it worked. It worked perfectly, as a matter of fact. Crawford is similar in style, the Wild realized that only too late last season. If they can beat Varlamov, they can definitely beat Crawford, there’s just a few veteran defenders they have to get through first.

BU Q5. What did the Wild take away from last year’s playoff loss to Chicago that they can use to their advantage this year?

GPW A5.The biggest thing Minnesota gained from last year was experience. After having not made the playoffs since winning the Northwest Division in 2008, experience was something that was desperately needed. What better tutors were there than the eventual Stanley Cup champion Chicago Blackhawks?

This year, the Wild not only has the experience from last year, but comes into the series having beaten the Central Division champs. Winning does a lot for a team. It builds confidence, it helps faith grow–faith in yourself, your teammates and the belief that you’re part of something bigger than yourself that has the potential to do something no Wild team has ever done before, and that’s win the Stanley Cup. That’s powerful motivation.

Bu Q6. Which Wild player is the X-Factor?

GPW-A6 Right now, goaltending has to be the biggest question mark. Bryzgalov started the series as the team’s No. 1 netminder. After trailing in the series 2-0, Kuemper returned and Minnesota made the swap, which worked out quite well for them. Both goalies are big but, while Bryz makes the big saves, he struggles on what should be the easy ones. Kuemper, on the other hand, is just a wall when healthy and on top of his game. In order to win this series, either one will have to stand tall to thwart the likes of Toews, Kane, Hossa, Sharp, Saad, Shaw and Keith. If they can’t do that, it’s going to be a rough series.

BU-Q7. What is your Series Prediction?

GPW A7 Last year, I picked Chicago in six or seven. They won in five because, let’s face it–the timing just wasn’t right for a deep playoff run in Minnesota. This year, there’s an abundance of organizational depth and a collective determination I’ve never seen from this team before. The young guns are delivering, the vets are performing at a high level for the most part and defense and goaltending has been solid.

What’s more, they just don’t seem content to let the other team decide games for them. After Game Five was stolen right out of their hands, the Wild came back to win Game Six and then scored four game-tying goals on the way to winning Game Seven. The latter has never happened in NHL history before. It’s the Stanley Cup Playoffs–history will be made–and that’s why I’m saying Minnesota in seven.

Thanks again to Dakota for giving us a minute for the answers and if for some reason you are looking for Minnesota coverage check out Gonepuckwild.com

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