Sunday, April 26, 2015

Baby, baby it's Wild World

I remember July 4, 2012. My wife, brother and I were driving home from a family gathering in northwest Wisconsin when my bro received a text about the Minnesota Wild. On that day the Wild signed the two most coveted NHL free agents, Zach Parise and Ryan Suter, to matching 13-year, $98 million contracts. Since we couldn't get any of the Twin Cities sports radio stations on my car radio, I pulled over to bring up KFAN on the iHeartRADIO app on my phone. Host Dan Barreiro had on Minnesota hockey guru Lou Nanne to discuss this coup the Wild pulled off. Nanne's excitement was downright palpable, so much so that I declared myself back on the Wild bandwagon for the first time since their magical 2003 playoff run.

On Sunday, the Wild wrapped up its first round series against the St. Louis Blues with a 4-1 Game 6 victory. What impressed me most about this series win was the bounce back performances of goalie Devan Dubnyk, who was essentially the Wild's MVP the final three months of the regular season. After allowing six goals in just less than two periods in Game 4 (a 6-1 Blues win, knotting the series at 2-2), Dubnyk responded over the next two games (a pair of 4-1 Wild victories) by stopping 66 out of 68 shots. It's an old cliche but it's true: Never underestimate the team with the hot goalie. This will definitely be the X factor as the Wild will now face a Chicago Blackhawks club who has eliminated them from postseason play each of the past two seasons.

Speaking of Parise, as 1500 ESPN guy Judd Zulgad notes, that lucrative contract he signed is starting to pay some dividends.

Parise proved again Sunday that he is worth every penny of that contract and that the bigger the stage the better he plays. Parise gave the Wild a 1-0 lead at 7 minutes, 14 seconds of the first period with a shorthanded goal that you had to see to believe.

Breaking down the left wing side, Parise attempted to fight off Blues defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk and could have easily just dumped the puck behind the net. Instead, he got past Shattenkirk and put a shot on goalie Jake Allen from a terrible angle. Somehow, the shot beat Allen to the near side.

The goal was brutal from Allen's standpoint, but it was a brilliant shot by Parise.

Parise would add a second goal early in the third period after St. Louis had pulled within one by scoring in the final seconds of the second. The goal came on a rebound off a Jason Pominville shot as Parise never stopped going to the net.

Last season, Parise had two goals and two assists as the Wild stayed alive by beating Colorado, 5-2, in Game 6 at the X.

Asked about his ability to be at his best in pressure situations, Parise said: "There's a lot of hockey stuff in play, but I think any athlete wants to be a part of the big-stage games. Any athlete wants to be involved in the game and take part in it. From top to bottom, I think all of our guys did a really good job."

The Blackhawks will likely be favored this next series and rightly so. But with the unflappability the Wild has displayed since mid January, don't be surprised if the "State of Hockey" hosts postseason games in June.


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