Right now it is snowing outside, despite the Global Warming Monster that is stomping unchecked across the country. This snow I take as a sign, some good juju, as it were, for the Minnesota Wild.
This season, the Wild overcame adversity. Their star, Marian Gaborik, was down for what seemed an eternity with a fragile groin. Again. Pretty much every key player was out over a stretch mid-season except for Brian Rolston, whose play only ended up looking like fatigue had settled in after carrying the team on his back from November to January. Even netminder Manny Fernandez, the top dog on the goalwatch, couldn't escape the injury bug, and he has been down with a bum knee, leaving the protective duties to NHL-inexperienced Niklas Backstrom, who shined like a lighthouse beacon to guide the team back to the playoffs.
And now every major media outlet has realized that Minnesota has a team. It seemed for a while like they thought the Wild had left town after their 2003 playoff run. Now they see us again but the result is exactly the same.
The Wild have no chance to beat the __________________ (Insert team here).
This time it's the Ducks.
Pronger. Niedermayer. Pronger. Niedermayer. Niedermayer. Pronger. Oh, yeah. Selanne.
Everyone at ESPN takes the Ducks in 6 or 7 games. Jim Kelley takes Anaheim. The folks at NBC Sports all take Anaheim......EXCEPT The Bellowing Moose, who is bold enough to take the Wild in Seven. Al Strachan at FoxSports takes Minnesota. Even WWE's The Edge takes Anaheim.
One common theme is the Duck Blueline.
That is the only argument being made for Duck success.
Pronger needs to shut down Gaborik. Niedermayer needs to shut down Gaborik. Even better is Pronger needs to shut down Gaborik and Demitra. Well, since they are linemates, I'd like to see Pronger cover them both. That would be an impressive feat.
Where folks are failing is that they view the Wild as merely a one player team. Granted, when Gaborik went down with injury this team was rudderless, sort of drifting along on the regular season tide. A win here, a handful of losses there. When Gaborik returned, however, the wins began to pile up again. Yet even if Gabby fails to score, he has to be covered and watched like a hawk.
And that is where it opens things up for the overlooked members of this underappreciated team.
Rolston. Bouchard. Demitra. Koivu. Parrish.
Shut down Gabby all you want, you still have to contend with these five 20+ goal scorers (okay, technically Parrish only has 19, but he had one called off against Calgary a couple weeks ago, and there is still his "phantom goal"...the one that was not allowed in Dallas).
The Wild and the Ducks split their season series 2-2. Gaborik only played in the first of those games. He missed all the others due to injury. Which means that the Wild were able to win 2 games without their top player. Which means the Ducks and their NiederPronger have much more to worry about.
This will be a hell of a series. I believe it to be probably the most even matchup of all 16 lineups available. And it will be the most ignored. The pundits have spoken and have already written ANAHEIM in the next round on the brackets. Which is fine. Ignore the Wild. Underestimate the Wild.
Just have your eraser handy. You'll need it.