USATSI_7233358_160885884_lowres

Someone Take The Wheel – The Minnehaha Defense And Goalies

We’ll move toward the back for the Wild, and this is where the major cracks for them begin to show. The Wild’s blue line corps is kind of like a muffin. Scrape off the tasty top, and you’re left with a flavorless hunk of not much with the rest that you’d really rather just chuck in the trash. At least that’s what I’m told. I don’t eat muffins.

You can expect Ryan Suter and Jonas Brodin to approach if not crack 30 minutes a night in this series, because they’re going to be asked to do a lot. And this is the bind teams are going to face with the Hawks, no matter who they are. Will Mike Yeo try and get Suter and Brodin out against Toews’s line? You can do that, but unless the Hawks themselves (more to the point, Dave Bolland) take the puck away from Patricks Kane and Sharp, they’re going to go a little silly on your bottom two pairs. If you try and combat Kaner with your top pairing, then Wild fans will be shaking violently at the thought of Tom Gilbert and Jared Spurgeon out against Toews, Hossa, and Saad.

You know all about Ryan Suter from his days in Nashville. After a slow start in his first season hauling giant bags of money around the Twin Cities, Suter vaulted himself into Norris talk. There’s nothing he can’t do. The Hawks might try and target him physically, but he skates too well to really be punished. The Hawks have to keep him from driving the Minnesota offense from the back. If you can make him simply a defensive player, no matter how effective, you cut off a lot of the Wild’s creativity and threat.

Brodin has been a revelation this year, and really should be getting more Calder talk than he will. While the numbers aren’t all that eye-popping, Brodin has looked way beyond his 19 years. The thing about Brodin is he never looks panicked. He always makes the right decisions, and doesn’t do any of the reckless firing of the puck to anywhere that you might expect of a young d-man.

However, he’s still 19 and this is his first playoff experience. That’s a lot to ask of a player that age, without throwing Hossa and Toews slobbering like a Pavlovian dog chasing him down. If he passes this test, the Wild will know they have something truly special on their hands.

But this is where things get icky for those in green and red, and pretty exciting for those of us clad in red and black. Beyond those two, on the second pair it’s Tom Gilbert and Clayton Stoner. Gilbert is a poor man’s Dan Boyle, and Dan Boyle isn’t exactly a great benefit to a team these days. Gilbert can push the play offensively, but can turn into a Chinese fire drill in his own zone. And that’s even when Dan Carcillo isn’t trying to maim him on the end boards. Gilbert will QB the second power play unit, where the Wild are going to have to get something if they expect to extend this series to a point where we might start to sweat.

Stoner would be a fine #6 or #7 d-man on a good team, but asking him to play second-pairing minutes….well, needless to say one or a couple of Sharp, Kane, Stalberg, and Bickell will want this series to start in the next five minutes.

From there, it’ll likely be Jared Spurgeon and Justin Falk. Spurgeon is pint-sized, and isn’t having as good of a year as he did last year. The Hawks will definitely try and lean on him with the body with their bottom two lines, and he can get turnover happy. Justin Falk is every bit “a guy” that someone named Justin Falk would seem to be.

If they need to make some changes, Brett Clark and Nate Prosser await in the wings. Clark can bring some snarl, but both these guys don’t have the feet to not get their skulls caved in by the Hawks speed.

At first glance, the Wild defense can’t really do what gives the Hawks the problems and that’s using size on defense. Even if they force the Hawks to chip pucks in deep and get it back, they can’t jam them up on the boards like the Yotes did last year. They don’t have the behemoths to do that, and that kind of game doesn’t really suit Suter, Brodin, or Gilbert. They look set to be scorched.

Goalie

There may be a fear of Niklas Backstrom turning into a monster and single-handedly making the Wild a threat to pull off the upset. But that doesn’t seem likely. Backstrom, like the rest of the Wild, didn’t exactly convince in the last few games when they were trying to lock down a playoff spot. He got lit up by offensive juggernauts San Jose, Calgary, and Edmonton. Backstrom has never won a playoff series either, but then again I suppose Mike Smith hadn’t before last year either.

Backstrom also hasn’t fared all that well against the Hawks, compiling a 5-8-2 record against them over his career. Though it feels like he’s played better against them than that, doesn’t it? He was all over the map against the Hawks this year. He came in relief of Josh Harding in their first meeting and didn’t surrender a goal in the final two periods. He only lasted one period in his appearance at the UC, as the Hawks put the Christmas lights on him for four goals on 17 1st period shots. He played well again in a loss at the X when the Hawks snuffed out anything resembling a Wild attack.

It’s not as if there’s some huge secret with Backstrom. He’s not that big, but he likes to cover the low part of the net when in trouble. The Bickell, Saad, and Hossa picked corners on him in the game in Chicago, and that will probably be the plan again. Backstrom’s rebound control can also get away from him, which is a problem when the Wild are as small as they are in some spots on defense.

But this series probably won’t have that much to do with Backstrom, just as it won’t with Corey Crawford. Considering the struggles the Wild look set to have with their bottom two pairs having to deal with the forward depth on the Hawks, Backstrom is going to be feeling like he’s crossing the desert and facing the unblinking eye most if not all games of this series. He could play well and still give up three goals per game.

  • The Doctor

    Why can’t it be tomorrow? I need me some playoff hockey!

    • MySpoonIsTooBig

      Just hop into the Tardis and go to tomorrow – why are you even complaining? And while you’re at it, could you go ahead and find out who next year’s Super Bowl winner is going to be so that I can lay down a nice bet in Vegas? Thanks!

      • 1benmenno

        Big Spoon’s logic is unassailable.

      • AirTrafficAJ

        Also, you need to photoshop a playoff beard on the good Dr.

        • The Doctor

          Oooh, I like that idea!

    • Sparky_The_Barbarian

      Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow,
      Creeps in this playoff run from day to day,
      To the last syllable of recorded time;
      And all our yesterdays have lighted fools
      The way to dusty death. Out, out, brief series!
      Wild’s but a walking shadow, a poor franchise
      That struts and frets its hour upon the ice
      And then is heard no more. It is a tale
      Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury
      Signifying nothing.

      • mad-hatter

        no recs for the Shakespeare? YOU’RE ALL HEATHENS

      • birdhead

        *applause*

    • Roy Batty

      Um it IS tomorrow, right? wtf?

  • Waylon

    I sincerely hope that the Hawks come out breathing fire and pour it on, and put the Wild back on their heels, consecutive 1st – round exits are quite enough. They don’t need this series to be extended to a sixth game, and they’ll need the rest since it’s likely they’re going to face a much tougher opponent next round.

  • dumdum

    If Hawk players can just hold onto the puck a couple seconds longer…

  • OMFS88

    Hawks in three

    • HossBoss

      I did the math, this checks out.

      • Paul the Fossil

        Only if the shot quality plays out as predicted.

        • ballyb11

          Gotta HIT.

  • raditzzzz

    anyone going to the kickoff at tribune tower? ill be there.

  • ahnfire

    “If [Brodin] passes this test, the Wild will know they have something truly special on their hands.”

    and that’s when StanBo convinces them to trade him to us right? they can even throw in a dead guy…

    /pipe-dreams

    • Waylon

      Just think if they had hung on to Leddy.

      • http://twitter.com/Bobby_Otter Bobby Otter

        He’d be playing too many minutes on the second pairing?

        I like Leddy as much as everyone else, but he’s still probably not ready for second pairing minutes. He’s been better this year because he almost never saw the ice vs the Koivu and Parise’s of the world this year… unlike last year. And we all know how that went.

        http://tinyurl.com/d4dpgrd

        • Waylon

          I understand, but considering the circumstances that Leddy found himself in (meaning he was promoted about one – two years too soon), and the way he’s progressed, the kid sure looks like a keeper for the long – term. I still think watching Leddy take the puck into the other team’s zone is one of the great thrills as a Hawks fan, hope we see more of it in the playoffs.

        • mad-hatter

          He’s been playing second pairing minutes for the past 10 or so games though, and playing well.

        • amontesawesome

          Look at the PDO numbers between this season and last season.

  • Z-man19

    I”m fucking giddy already, bring on the hate and the nervousness, I WANT MY PLAYOFF HOCKEY NOW!!!

    • 1benmenno

      Is that you talking or your dog?

      • Z-man19

        the dog is only concerned about his next meal and licking his balls.

    • justforkicks

      Ahhhhhhh!

  • Waylon

    Watching the NFL Network last night, they’re just as bad as NBC and their bastard child of a sports network when it comes to the Eastern Conference 24/7 slobberfest. They spent almost ten minutes discussing how awesome the Rangers/Caps series will be – gag. OTOH, they did have one of the most awesome rants by a player vs. the media – watch Bryz go for the Academy Award of bitchfests:

    http://sports.yahoo.com/blogs/nhl-puck-daddy/ilya-bryzgalov-parting-words-flyers-media-done-besides-202935210.html

    • putmeinthemadhouse

      Philadelpiha sports media is really something else. Living here I see how bad it is firsthand.

  • ahnfire

    BenSmith! is the lone Hog practicing with the Hawks today, apparently. No Emery or Bolly at practice, according to the twitters.

    • 1benmenno

      He gets another shot at the playoffs. A year later. Or is it two years now?

      • AirTrafficAJ

        After that ridiculous fucking lockout, it feels like 5.

      • putmeinthemadhouse

        Two

  • GerDevine

    Marco Scandella just got called up today, so I imagine Falk will be sitting out.

    Scandella is a talented young d-man who seems to have everything he needs to sucCeed, yet hasn’t been able to take that final step to become a regular in the NHL.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/John-Faker/558555424 John Faker

    The great thing about this to me is the Hawks having home ice.

    If the Wild throw out the Suter paring, the hawks can counter with any of the bottom three lines. If those lines win some faceoffs and have a decent shift in the Offensive zone, Yeo is forced to either double shift Suter/Brodin or match up the Stoner/Gilbert line against the Toews line.

  • 07GreyDigger

    Since when do the Wild not have Darby Hendrickson and Sergei Krivokrasov? Where was I?

  • mad-hatter

    Suter better stay the fuck away from Sharpy if he knows what’s good for him, or else he’ll come home to the head of a horse in his bed.

    • Z-man19

      Or several horse heads, hell you’d probably have to wait in line to get into his house.

      • Joe Banks

        Oh, Wilbur… that smarts!

    • http://whatisthebestadverb.wordpress.com/ I am not Chico Maki

      Why would Taylor Hall’s head be in Ryan Suter’s bed? That doesn’t make any sense.

    • lizmcneill

      NOBODY IS ALLOWED TO BREAK SHARPY AGAIN, OR I WILL BE MAD.

  • ballyb11

    Worried…..

    about our goaltending.

  • eminemilie

    Hello dears. Just stopping by and saying good luck before the series starts. I’ll be back once you kick us to the curb in 5 or 6 games :)