These two teams meet in the playoffs for the second straight postseason, although there's a much different feel about this Minnesota Wild team than a season ago, when they backed into the postseason and were easy pickings for a Chicago Blackhawks team that dispatched them in five games. This time, the Blackhawks are humming, coming off four straight wins against the St. Louis Blues after dropping the first two games in emotional overtime losses, and they have shown no early signs of the dreaded Stanley Cup hangover. The Wild, meanwhile, dropped the first two against the Colorado Avalanche, trailed 3-2 in the series and then in Game 7 had to erase four different one-goal deficits before winning in overtime on Nino Niederreiter's wicked wrist shot. In other words, this is a team that's got tons of heart.
Blackhawks: Team offense
The Blackhawks are absolutely cooking offensively. After dropping the first two games of the opening-round series against the Blues, the Blackhawks moved into high gear, outscoring the Blues 14-6 in the final four games while averaging 3.33 goals per game through the six-game set against one of the top defensive teams in the NHL. Six players scored more than once in the series, 12 players had at least one goal and they were perfect in games in which they scored first (and 0-for-2 in games they did not). Perhaps most impressive is that the team's best players are already in peak form early in the playoffs. Patrick Kane has three goals, Duncan Keith is tied for the team lead with seven points, Brent Seabrook has six points, even though he was suspended for half the first-round series for his vicious hit on David Backes, and all captain Jonathan Toews has done is score three game winners. On the other side of the puck, the Blackhawks have been at the top of their game killing penalties, allowing just two power-play goals on 29 opportunities. In short, the Blackhawks are rolling, and that's a scary thing for the Wild.
What a wacky team these Wild are when it comes to goaltending. Ilya Bryzgalov was ordinary at best as the Wild fell behind 2-0 in the series, allowing eight goals and turning in an .822 save percentage. Bryzgalov, picked up from the Edmonton Oilers at the trade deadline, was replaced by rookie Darcy Kuemper, who had been injured, and Kuemper led the Wild back into the series with three wins in four games. But Kuemper was hurt in the third period of Game 7, forcing Bryzgalov back into the net, and he shut down the Avs the rest of the way, though he was not severely tested. I can't imagine Bryzgalov can put together enough quality starts for the Wild to have a shot at defeating the Blackhawks, which means the team's hopes rest with the ability of Kuemper to get back into playing shape. But if history has told us anything, we haven't likely seen the last of Bryzgalov.
Blackhawks: Patrick Sharp