Western Conference Quarter-Finals: Minnesota and Colorado
Much of the attention focused on the upcoming Avalanche-Wild playoff matchup will center on the last seconds of Sunday's game between the two teams, in which Colorado’s Ian Laperriere and Minnesota’s Marian Gaborik traded punches before they were quickly separated by the referees.
It was Laperriere’s 161st fight in roughly 15 years in the NHL. And Gaborik’s first in seven years.
Wild enforcer Derek Boogaard was scratched Sunday, and he was clearly chomping at the bit for Wednesday’s game one.
"Obviously I'm going to be playing in the first game. We'll see if somebody has a problem then."
However, this cannot be the focus of either team.
If either the Wild or the Avalanche focus too much on Sunday’s antics and don't focus as much on putting pucks into nets, none of it will matter.
With that in mind, I’ll give a quick breakdown of each team and the match up as a whole.
The Season Series / Home Ice
The Wild won the season series 5-3, winning all four at home but only one in Colorado. Colorado, by extension, didn’t win any in Minnesota. With the first two games in St. Paul, it will be crucial for Colorado to take one of the first two.
This isn’t the same Colorado team the Wild have beaten all season, though. They are healthier than they have been at any point this season, and with the late addition of Peter Forsberg, who has 12 points in his last five games, this should be a tight series.
The Wild will have home ice the first two games and they need to use it for their advantage. They had a 25-11-5 record at home at The Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul. That arena can be loud and raucous, and if they can win both home games Colorado will be in trouble.
But if Colorado pulls out one of the first two, the series could easily go to seven games.
Colorado, though, has a good home record at 27-12-2. And both teams’ away records are similar, with the Wild just over .500 and the Avalanche just under .500.
The home team could easily win every game, but that would favor the Wild. Road wins will be critical to both teams.
Strictly going by stats, the Wild’s Niklas Backstrom has the advantage over his Colorado counterpart, Jose Theodore.
Backstrom has a GAA (Goals-Against Average) of 2.31 and a save percentage of .920, while Theodore has a slightly higher GAA of 2.44 and slightly lower save percentage of .910.
Backstrom has been consistently good over the past year and a half. He took over for former goalie Manny Fernandez when he was injured last year, and played so well that he kept the job when Fernandez got healthy. He finished the year with a GAA of 1.97.
Theodore, however, has been inconsistent. At times he looks like the best goalie in the league, at other times he is simply average. However, he is arguably having his best season since 2004. He will need to be strong.
Looking at the last 10 games, Theodore has a 2.80 GAA while Backstrom has a 1.57 GAA.
When both teams are at full strength, the defensemen for the Wild and Avalanche are fairly even, with a possibly slight advantage to the Avalanche. However, the Wild are not at full strength.
They lost Kurtis Foster to a broken leg on March 19 in San Jose, and on Monday they lost team leader Nick Schultz to an appendectomy. Together they were +9 on the year, and Schultz had played in 81 of the Wild’s games.
The remaining highlights from the Wild are Kim Johnsson and Brent Burns, who are +8 on the year and have played in 80 and 82 games this year, respectively. Burns is second in the league for defensemen with 15 goals this season, and (most importantly) plays great defense.
Matrin Skoula and Keith Carney have also played in most of the Wild’s games. After that things get iffy, and the Wild will need strong performances from veteran Sean Hill and European vet Petteri Nummelin.
Colorado has Adam Foote, Jeff Finger, John-Michael Liles, and Jeff Hannan. All have played in at least 75 games this year. The highlight is probably Finger, who has played in 82 games and is +12 on the year.
The Wild forwards will also probably not be as formidable as the Avalanche’s. And with Minnesota’s banged up defense, the edge definitely goes to the Avalanche.
Colorado’s Peter Forsberg, Paul Stasny, and Andrew Brunette are +14 in their last 10 games, including +7 from Forsberg. Minnesota’s Marion Gaborik, Pierre-Marc Bouchard, and Brian Rolston are +6 in their last 10.
The Wild like to spread it around, and they have more speed. But Colorado is by no means slow and has been playing very well recently, especially Forsberg. Also, Colorado’s front played much better in their win against the Wild Sunday. I’ll call this even.
The series could come down to special teams, where Minnesota has a somewhat large advantage.
The Wild are second in the conference in percentage of power plays made at 18.9 percent, while the Avalanche are third to last in the conference in percentage of power plays killed 81.4 percent.
Conversely, Colorado is third to last in the NHL in power plays converted at 14.6 percent, while the Wild are fourth in the NHL in power plays killed at 85.2 percent.
Final Verdict - Wild in Seven
Minnesota is known, mostly negatively, for their neutral zone trap.
But Colorado for the most part plays the same style, while avoiding criticism. Look for somewhat low scoring games.
I think this series will go to seven games, and I think the Wild will win it. Expect that Colorado will take one of the first two in St. Paul. If they take both, this series could be over sooner in Colorado’s favor. If the Wild take both, I still see the series going at least six.
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