Game Time: 7:00PM CST
TV/Radio: NBCSN, TVA-S, SportsNet, WGN-AM 720
Makes No Sense At All: Hockey Wilderness
And so it is now here, the most important regular season game in the history of the sport…at least until the next one. The Wild are still playing .900 hockey and have three games in hand on the Hawks, and a regulation win tonight should effectively salt the division away for them, and there’s nothing more that Bruce Boudreau likes than the taste of salted divisions. And the entire hockey world, such as it is, will be watching, as this is the only game on the docket tonight.
The Wild will be returning home after winning last night in Manitoba following their familiar template – getting grossly outshot (40 to 25) and out attempted (a 43% share), but it was all made to stand up by Devan Dubnyk. That’s not to say that they haven’t gotten solid production from their skaters, as they have. Mikael Granlund is finally producing as billed playmaking from the right wing, with 15 goals and 33 assists, and leading the team in points. Eric Staal has reclaimed his career to the point of being moved back to center 19 games away from hitting the 1000 played milestone, for anyone out there who wants to feel spectacularly old (even though he’d be past 1100 games were it not for 2 lockouts). And of course, the beloved Nino Neiderreiter continues to drive possession at an alarming rate from the bottom six. And this is before even getting to the profound irritants of Jason Pominville, Jason Zucker, and Erik Haula.
On the blue line things are a little jumbled at present, with Jonas Brodin out, so Jared Spurgeon moves up to the top pairing with Ryan Suter, and that’s probably a better fit in the puck mover/free safety mold anyway. Marco Scandella and Matt Dumba follow suit in that template, with Dumba having probably the most accurate shot on the Wild from the point. Christian Folin and Gustav Olofsson will comprise what’s left of the group, with Olofsson playing only his second NHL game tonight.
Despite having played last night on the road, there is zero reason to believe that Bruce Boudreau won’t come right back with Dubnyk tonight at home against a division rival. There’s no arguing with Dubnyk’s numbers at this point while he boasts a .933 overall save percentage and a comical .944 at evens. The Vezina is his to lose right now, but there remain concerns about his workload given that he is on pace to play 71 games this season, and his playoff success (or lackthereof). But that doesn’t mean he won’t be a brick wall tonight, because he probably will be.
As for the Men of Four Feathers, there does not appear to be much by way of lineup changes since they were last seen on Saturday night in Dallas, with the exception of Michal Kempny getting back into the lineup tonight in place of Gustav Forsling. And for as much offensive upside as Forsling possesses, which earned him a goal on Saturday, it’s still more than likely wiser for Quenneville to suit up his most effective defenseman from a possession standpoint. At least based on the assumption that Teflon van Riemsdyk will never, ever be scratched again and will play 35 minutes a night after scoring the game winner against Dallas- naturally on an ill advised pinch.
Because Bruce Boudreau really doesn’t have any coaching strategy other than “GO FUCKEN GET EM BOYS” and having his entire team collapse around Dubnyk, there may still be opportunities for Quenneville to get Toews away from Mikko Koivu on the road, because throughout their respective careers Koivu has gnawed Toews’ balls off at any opportunity, and when he was boasting far more imposing linemates than Nick Schmaltz and Mike Bossy, Jr.
And because the Wild collapse their defense, they tend to concede their own blue line, so it will be imperative for attacking Hawks puck carriers to take their time and assess the proper route the puck needs to take to put an accurate shot on the rangy Dubnyk. Because they crowd lanes, it’s difficult to move the puck enough in tight to get Dubnyk to move laterally while standing up and opening his five-hole. But either way, the Wild are going to concede a lot of shots, and the Hawks have enough bad shot makers on the roster to get enough of them through once they start to pile up.
The Hawks have lost about 86 straight regular season games to the Wild, but one more tonight all but extinguishes any realistic designs on the division. Hell, even an OT victory does next to nothing. It’s still a long shot, but two points in regulation in St. Paul still keeps the outside lane open. Maybe give it a try men, it’s fucking been a while. Let’s go Hawks.