As Martin Havlat, John Madden, Cam Barker and the Minnesota Wild once again return to the United Center tomorrow night, I wanted to get a different perspective of the matchup other than the biased opinions that float around these parts.
So, I went to the source. Glen Andresen is the Managing Editor of Wild.com and covers the team through his fantastic blog, View From the Lighthouse. He was kind enough to answer a few of my questions about tomorrow night’s matchup, Minnesota’s playoff push, the impact of the All-Star Havlat and an outsider’s view of the 2010-11 Chicago Blackhawks.
Click the jump for the Q&A with Glen Andresen
Bartl: Getting this out of the way quickly: Tomorrow’s game is obviously big in the grand scheme of the Western Conference playoff picture with the two teams separated by only three points. What has been the Wild’s gameplan against the Blackhawks, and what do you feel needs to happen for Minnesota to pick up a crucial road win?
Andresen: Looking back at this recent Wild run, I would say Minnesota’s win in Chicago right before the All-Star break was the biggest of the season. It wasn’t just because they won, but the way they did it. After the Wild took a 1-0 lead, the Blackhawks started looking like a team that was possessed. It was like they were toying with the Wild, not even letting them get at the puck. It was just wave after wave. But Niklas Backstrom stood on his head in goal, and only allowed two goals.
That gave the Wild time to regroup, and they ended up going toe-to-toe with the Hawks the rest of the way. I think they’ll try to do the same thing, knowing the Hawks have so much talent, there are going to be times they dominate. But since that game, they have a confidence and swagger. They know they can withstand those attacks and apply pressure of their own.
Bartl: The Wild are trying to get back to the postseason for the first time in three years. What is going to separate Minnesota from the other contenders down the stretch as its fights to get into the top eight?
Andresen: I don’t know if there is a better goaltending tandem anywhere than Niklas Backstrom and Jose Theodore. I mean, the Wild has a former MVP as the backup right now. That’s saying something.
The Wild brass will readily admit that there’s not a “go-to” scorer in the lineup, but there is a lot of scoring depth on the top three lines. I look at examples of when the Wild is down late with the goalie pulled. They can throw out Mikko Koivu, Martin Havlat, Andrew Brunette, Cal Clutterbuck, Brent Burns and Pierre-Marc Bouchard. On Saturday, it was Havlat that scored a tying goal in the final minute. Last month, it was Bouchard that did the same thing.
This team can score, although I’m not sure how many people know that outside of Minnesota.
Bartl: Can you see Minnesota making any moves before or at the trade deadline? Anything you would like to see happen personally?
Andresen: I’d be really surprised if any major moves were made. It seems as though GM Chuck Fletcher wants to go with the guys that got them to this point, and not upset the chemistry that has obviously developed. Plus, there’s a good chance that Marek Zidlicky and Guillaume Latendresse come back for the stretch run, so those are two pretty good pickups.
Bartl: Ever since the Blackhawks let Martin Havlat walk in order to sign Marian Hossa before the 2009-10 season, there’s been a debate on whether or not it was the right move with Havlat coming off a career year. Last season we got our Stanley Cup, while Havlat had a disappointing first year in Minnesota. Now, Havlat is an All-Star and Hossa seems like Samuel L. Jackson’s character from “Unbreakable.” What has Havlat meant to the Wild’s playoff push this season?
Andresen: I haven’t heard anyone complaining about Havlat’s deal this year, which I couldn’t say last year. He has been great all year, but there was a time in November/December, where he absolutely carried this team. He is still contributing now, but if it wasn’t for that early stretch, who knows where the Wild would be at this point?
Bartl: Have Havlat, John Madden or Cam Barker mentioned anything to you about playing the Blackhawks and it being a bit more special to play against their former team?
Andresen: I think all players admit to getting a little extra pumped to play their former teams. I do know that all three of those guys loved playing in Chicago, because they were all there for Chicago’s “renaissance.” There aren’t many atmospheres that can compare to a Blackhawk game at United Center these days. I’ve been there twice over the last two years, and was blown away. I can only imagine how pumped the players get in there.
Bartl: What has been your impression of the Blackhawks seeing them this season as they fight for a playoff spot after winning the Stanley Cup last season? We here in Chicago have our own opinions, but what does someone like you see from the outside looking in?
Andresen: Probably like many in Chicago, I wonder how they are where they are with the talent they have. Even though the Wild won the January 24 game, like I said, the Blackhawks looked otherworldly at times. But the Wild certainly brought their “A” game that night, and I’m sure that’s what Chicago is getting every night from every team it faces.
In Minnesota, I think most people still have the feeling the Hawks will make a charge and comfortably ease into the playoffs. I’m sure losing some of those guys in the offseason hurt, but really? Toews, Kane, Keith, Seabrook, Hossa and Sharp? That’s still a playoff team.
**** Thanks again to Glen Andresen of Wild.com for taking the time out to answer a few questions.