The teams have entered the bubbles in Edmonton and Toronto, there’s exhibition games starting Tuesday and the Play-in Round begins Saturday. As crazy as it seems, hockey is back, and for the first time in 5 seasons, the Canucks (sort of) are in the playoffs, taking on the Minnesota Wild in a best of 5 series to see who gets into the next round. We chatted with the editor of Hockey Wilderness Ryan Quigley, to get a sense of how they’re feeling heading into the series:
1. What is the general mood in Minnesota going into the play-in series against the Canucks? There’s a really interesting energy for Wild fans going into this series. On one hand, there’s a pretty solid amount of fans that feel cautiously optimistic about this series. The Wild were playing better than many realized when the season was paused due to COVID-19, and I think a lot of folks in Minnesota are hopeful that the team can regain that momentum. But then there’s another portion of the fan base that is dead set on tanking in order to get a chance to win the first pick in the draft. With the lottery format being so different this year, I think a lot of fans of teams taking part in the play-in round feel the same way. If the Wild beat Vancouver, that would obviously be fun. But can they realistically win the Stanley Cup this year? More than likely, no. It’s pretty easy to see why so many fans are unsure about how to feel going into this series.
2. Is there anything about the Canucks that makes Wild fans worried? Wild fans are well aware of the star power in Vancouver. Brock Boeser, of course, is a Minnesota native, so a lot of locals have been rooting for him during his time with the Canucks — especially now that the Canucks and Wild are no longer in the same division. Elias Pettersson is one of the best young players in hockey, and I think a lot of fans understand that he’s capable of not only taking over a game, but potentially an entire playoff series. He’s that good. And then there’s obviously Quinn Hughes, who could wind up winning the Calder this year. The Canucks have so much good, young talent, and the Wild are anything but young. If the Vancouver kids continue to play the way they did in the regular season, the Wild could have some real problems keeping up.
3. What is the Wild’s biggest strength, and how will the team use it to its advantage? This may sound facetious, but the Wild win games by simply making it very difficult for other teams to score goals. Their game isn’t flashy, but it is generally pretty effective. No team in the NHL allowed fewer high-danger scoring chances during the regular season than Minnesota, and it’s easy to see why with Jared Spurgeon, Ryan Suter, Jonas Brodin and Matt Dumba all earning heavy ice time. Minnesota’s defense is the entire reason they’re even taking part in the play-in round, and if the blueliners don’t play well against the Canucks for whatever reason, it could end up being a disaster of a series.
4. What is the Wild’s biggest weakness, and does it concern the fans in Minnesota? Without a doubt, Minnesota’s biggest issue is goaltending. And Wild fans are very nervous about it. Despite having one of the better groups of defensemen in the NHL, the Wild still allowed an average of 3.14 goals per game during the regular season. Devan Dubnyk looked completely lost in net all season (part of this is likely due to an off-the-ice family emergency) and wound up relinquishing the starting job to Alex Stalock, who, to his credit, actually played pretty well in 38 appearances. But while Stalock put together an admirable season, he’s still a career backup who has played a grand total of four postseason games as an NHLer. For obvious reasons, a lot of Wild fans aren’t feeling too optimistic about the goaltending going into this series. Some even think the Wild should start 23-year-old Kaapo Kahkonen in net just to see what he can do. It’s definitely a thing.
5. What is your prediction for the five-game series? As difficult as it is to say this, I wouldn’t be shocked if the Canucks win the series in four games. They just have so much young talent, and I think Jacob Markstrom is a much better goalie than any of the backstops currently on Minnesota’s roster. If the Wild get some semblance of average goaltending, this could be a very competitive series. But that’s not a bet I’m willing to make.
Thanks to Ryan for doing this, and make sure to follow them on Twitter.