Minnesota Wild vs. Chicago Blackhawks Series Preview & Free NHL Picks

Betting Stanley Cup Playoffs?

The Minnesota Wild impressed a lot of people (author included) with their resilient series victory against a youthful, high-octane Colorado team. Can they keep any magic going against conference standout Chicago, or will the underdog party come to an end in Round 2?

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The Wild took three out of five contests versus Chicago in the regular season, but the playoffs are a whole different animal.

Western Conference Semi-final: Minnesota Wild vs. Chicago Blackhawks
Series starts Friday, May 2 2014, 9:30 pm EST
Venue: Home ice Chicago: Game 1 United Center, Chicago IL
Minnesota +1.5 (1.59), Chicago -1.5 (2.50)
Over/Under for Game 1: 5
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Chicago has to be happy with where it is at after a convincing opening-round defeat of the rival St. Louis Blues, a squad that looked strong all season long. The Blackhawks have a team built almost dynastically, with veterans/leaders/scorers up front (Jonathan Toews, Marian Hossa, Patrick Sharp, Patrick Kane); studs on the blueline (Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook, Niklas Hjalmarsson); and a solid goalie in Corey Crawford.

Did I mention that Chicago’s depth is incredible? I would be remiss if I didn’t mention grinders-with-skill like Bryan Bickell, Andrew Shaw and Marcus Kruger.

Crawford doesn’t get enough credit, because he always answers the bell when the chips are down. The well-roundedness of Chicago make them an extremely tough team to play in a seven-game series.

Yet Minny aren’t a team to be trifled with either, as it proved in a character-building triumph against Colorado. The Avalanche looked deadly for the most part and after early struggles from Wild starter Ilya Bryzgalov in net, the State of Hockey looked done and dusted from the NHL playoffs.

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Sure enough, the Wild circled the wagons, backup goalie Darcy Kuemper put up some respectable performances and Minnesota forwards scored some timely goals.

There’s plenty of concern with an injury Kuemper sustained near the end of Game 7 of the last series. He didn’t return for overtime and the shaky Bryzgalov may have to start Game 1 in Chicago for the Wild.
Minnesota must be at its defensive best if the Wild hope to have any chance against Chicago over seven games. That’s handy because Minnesota thrives with a grinding style of game that wears down the opposition, because the Wild couldn’t match scorer-for-scorer in the last series and they can’t do it in this one, either.

When you have an arsenal of weapons like Chicago possesses, and a Norris Trophy candidate on defense and an underrated netminder, you’re going to be a favorite to win most seven-game series (and maybe even the entire Stanley Cup, again).

Make no mistake: Minnesota has some playoff performers you can rely on. Forwards Zach Parise and Mikael Granlund were phenomenal versus Colorado and defenseman Ryan Suter is one of the few you can put in the same breath with Keith.

I just doubt it will be enough, with the Wild being the road team and without feeling totally confident in the most crucial position on the ice come playoff time.

If Kuemper’s health were more settled, I’d be more comfortable believing that Minny could take the ‘Hawks the distance in this series; both clubs have to be riding high at the moment.

But with the reality of the goaltending situation (crow-eating time: I said the same thing in the last series), I see this series going five games, six at the most.

The Chicago Blackhawks will be moving on to the Western Conference final.

Prediction: Chicago in five

By James Hayes

James has been naming every player on the EA Sports video game rosters for half a decade now, he’s finally putting his knowledge to better use writing for us here at Your comments are welcome below…Give Us Your Take!