The Wild scored only 198 goals during the regular season, fewest among playoff teams. Marian Gaborik had a team-high 30 goals, but name another consistent threat in this lineup. The playoffs have been different. Wes Walz, Andrew Brunette, Pascal Dupuis, Cliff Ronning and Richard Park have all scored critical goals, and the Wild has scored 42 times, the most by a team in the playoffs. How much of that stemmed from a leaky Vancouver defense remains to be seen. The Ducks’ balance finished perennial powers Dallas and Detroit. Steve Thomas may qualify as the trade of the year at this point.
Regard for the Duck defensemen has improved during the playoff run. Keith Carney is being called one of the best in the NHL. That looked to be the case as the Ducks bottled up Detroit, then Dallas, in the first two rounds. The Ducks, contrary to opponents’ opinions, are not a trapping team, but they do emphasize defense first, then a quick counterattack. The Wild plays much the same, although its defensemen are even lesser known than the Ducks. Coach Jacques Lemaire used this system to win a Stanley Cup in New Jersey.
No one in the playoffs has had a reputation grow as much as Duck goalie Jean-Sebastien Giguere. The moments that have defined the Duck playoff run have centered around him. The Wild has juggled goalies, which has worked during the season and during the playoffs. Dwayne Roloson had a career year and Manny Fernandez has been solid, although their success is usually linked to the Wild’s defensive system. Roloson is bothered by a groin injury.
The Wild’s power play was 23rd in the regular season but ranks first among playoff teams with 15 goals in 56 chances (26.8%). Again, Vancouver’s defense lent a hand in boosting those numbers. The Duck power play? Coach Mike Babcock has defended it, but he even called it “scary bad” after an 0-for-6 performance in Game 5 against Dallas. The Ducks have only four goals in 41 chances.
Dallas had the best power play in the playoffs, then were three for 19 against the Ducks, who were the second best at penalty killing during the regular season. Dallas got only three power-play goals in the series. The Ducks lost Patric Kjellberg, one of their best penalty killers, who left the team this week. The Wild was fourth in penalty killing during the regular season but has dipped in the playoffs, giving up 10 power-play goals.
Babcock has earned his spurs. He has made the right moves, said the right things and done a soft sell about his efforts. Lemaire is proven in the playoffs, with 11 Stanley Cup rings as a player and coach. He is the favorite to be selected coach of the year this season.
Edge: A push
This is the Wild’s fourth game in six nights. Fatigue may be a factor early in the series. The Duck veterans who have been through playoff grinds are beginning to step forward, Sandis Ozolinsh and Thomas in particular. Steve Rucchin and Carney have muzzled Sergei Fedorov and Mike Modano. Gaborik will be their next assignment.
Prediction: Ducks in six.