PUCK DROP: 7pm
TV/RADIO: CSN, WGN
OUT BEYOND THE WALL: Hockey Wilderness
It only seems like the 12th time the Hawks and Wild have played this year. But going back over the last four seasons, this will be the 34th time the two have met including playoffs. So yeah, it can seem like a bit of a slog by this point. This is also the first chance for the Wild to sweep the season series from the Hawks, and I honestly can’t remember the Hawks losing to any team five times without reply since Quenneville took over. Which is kind of hard to believe but then it’s hard to be a team like the Hawks this much.
The Hawks have acted like something of a switchback for the Wild the past two meetings. Before bludgeoning them at TCF Bank Stadium, the Wild had won three in a row. After that game, they lost three in a row. They came into the UC a couple weeks ago having lost six of eight. After getting a shootout win, they’ve won their last three games to take a stranglehold of the last wild card spot, which is seemingly their destiny year after year. They’re three points up on the Avs with six games to go, and the Avs not having Duchene or MacKinnon. It’s not locked down yet, but the Wild certainly would have to go way out of their way to fuck it up. Two points tonight for them would basically see the Avs having to run the table or close to it.
This mini-winning streak has seen Zach Parise go a bit nuclear, which I suppose is why you give him a silo full of cash in the first place. He’s got seven points and five goals in the last three games, including braining the Avs basically by himself on Saturday afternoon. He’s been a thorn in the Hawks’ side for a while, being the kind of strong presence around the net despite his size that they struggle with from time to time. Also leading the charge as been Dev Dubs, who has won his last five starts and given up just seven goals in them, while facing 165 shots in that time (that’s a .957 SV% if you’re scoring at home). So yeah, looks a bit like last year in a way lately.
We’ve been over and over what the Wild are and what they aren’t this season. It’s just hard to pinpoint what they do well, or what they do exceedingly badly. They’ve spiked all over the map in possession as they go from winning streak to cold streak, but overall remain a pretty substandard one. The power play has spiked of late, which will be a good test for the Hawks’ possibly-resurgent or possibly-just-played-the-Flames-and-Canucks penalty kill. As we have said and seen, when the Hawks give up power play goals they have a hard time pulling them back at even-strength, and lately their own power play hasn’t been canceling anything out either.
While it’s hard to judge anything off regular season results and certainly with the Hawks when so much is based on mood, it isn’t a huge secret how the Wild have piled up four wins on them (three of which were pretty resounding in performance if not the scoreboard). They do have a speed up and down their forward lines, with Erik Haula and Jason Zucker turning into Jari Kurri and Rick Tocchet whenever they see the black and red. They continually harass Teflon and Bluto and Rozsival into turnovers or beat them behind the net to loose puck and cycle until they get dizzy. When pinned down for a bit, the Hawks can’t stretch them or get behind their defense, and basically just have to dump the puck out where a pretty solid Minny blue line can start it all over. I don’t see why that won’t be the plan tonight. Worth watching again at home is how Torchetti distributes his matchups. Mikko Koivu has been a pain in the ass for Toews for years, but do Suter and Spurgeon follow or do they deal with Kane and the 10 seconds Pantera wants to hold onto the puck every time?
Wherever the Hawks interest level is, it’s hard to imagine they’ll take being beaten by a division rival five times lightly. They’ve found some confidence in at least doing what they have to do against the refuse of the Pacific, and this is certainly a step up from that. They also haven’t beaten a Western Conference playoff team since early February, something you’d also think they’d like to correct (and this is the second to last chance they’ll have this season to do so). With the Stars and Preds playing each other tonight, a win would see the Hawks gain ground on someone, while a loss would obviously see them lose ground to someone. Despite their best efforts a four-point gap to the top is not impossible, though highly unlikely. They caught a break with the Preds biffing one at home to the Avs last night and can end that discussion with a win tonight for sure. A four-point gap on the Preds at worst with five to go and three of them being against the Jets, Yotes, and Jackets should be more than enough.