For the third time in five all-time postseason appearances, the Minnesota Wild will take on the Colorado Avalanche in the first round of the NHL playoffs. The teams played each other five times during the regular season as Central Division foes, with the Wild’s only win coming in a shootout.
The Avalanche finished with 111 points and won the Central division in Patrick Roy’s first season behind the bench, after finishing with just 39 points (second-worst in the league) last season. 2013 No. 1 overall pick Nathan MacKinnon is one of the front runners for the Calder Trophy, after putting up 63 points (24 goals, 39 assists), and with leading point scorer Matt Duchene (knee) likely out for the first round his contribution will be crucial for Colorado. Goaltender Semyon Varlamov led the league with 41 regular season wins, and he also finished in the top-five of the league in save percentage (.927).
The Wild are led by veteran forwards Zach Parise (29 goals, 27 assists), Mikko Koivu (11 goals, 43 assists) and Jason Pominville (30 goals, 30 assists), and defenseman Ryan Suter led the league in minutes per game during the regular season (29:25). Younger players like Nino Niederreiter, Jared Spurgeon and Charlie Coyle will be key pieces for the Wild, but if they are to take down the Avalanche the aforementioned quartet will have to lead the way.
The Wild have had a revolving door in goal this season, due to injuries (Niklas Backstrom, Darcy Kuemper) and illness (Josh Harding), so Ilya Bryzgalov’s poor performance in a 7-3 loss to the Nashville Predators in the regular season finale on Sunday may be cause for concern. But prior to that Bryzgalov had a 5-0-1 record in his previous six starts, including back-to-back shutouts against the Pittsburgh Penguins and Winnipeg Jets, so Sunday’s game should be looked at as a blip on the radar in a game the Wild had nothing to gain by winning.
Game 1 will be in Denver on Thursday night, at 8:30 p.m. Central time, and if the playoff history between these two franchises is any indication a six or seven-game series is coming.