March 20 – Day 157 – The Wild’s wildcard chase continues in Chicago

The Pittsburgh Penguins used a three goal second period to knock off the in-state rival Philadelphia Flyers 4-1 in yesterday’s Game of the Day.

The first goal wasn’t scored until the 21:58 mark, courtesy of Radko Gudas and the Flyers, his fourth goal of the season.  1:01 later, Trevor Daley leveled the game with a snap shot (his fifth tally of the season), assisted by First Star of the Game Nick Bonino and Eric Fehr.  The tie lasted until 3:04 remained in the frame when Second Star Carl Hagelin’s slap shot found the back of the net for the game winner, assisted by Bonino (his 11th helper of the season).  1:29 later, Chris Kunitz fired a slap shot of his own to give the Pens an insurance score, assisted by Sidney Crosby and Patric Hornqvist (his 27th helper of the season).  The 3-1 score held into the second intermission.

Kris Letang was responsible for the lone tally of the final period, an empty netter assisted by Kunitz and Crosby (his 43rd helper of the season).

Marc-Andre Fleury earns the victory after saving 16 of the 17 shots he faced (94.1%), while Third Star Steve Mason takes the loss, saving 31 of 34 (91.2%).

The DtFR Game of the Day series now stands at 70-41-16, favoring the home sides by 30 points over the visitors.

It’s getting to be that time of year again when Sundays are just as busy and unpredictable as Saturdays, and I’m not just talking about March Madness.  A total of seven games are going to be played today, starting with Anaheim at Winnipeg at 3 p.m. eastern.  Columbus at New Jersey gets going at 5 p.m. eastern, followed an hour later by Washington at Pittsburgh (NBCSN/TVAS).  The usual starting time of 7 p.m. features Calgary at Montréal (RDS/SN), which is trailed 90 minutes later by the opening puck drop of Minnesota at Chicago (NBCSN).  9:30 p.m. eastern marks the beginning of Colorado at Edmonton (SN1), which is followed half an hour later by this evening’s nightcap, Arizona at San Jose.

A majority of today’s games are divisional rivalries (Columbus at New Jersey, Washington at Pittsburgh, Minnesota at Chicago and Arizona at San Jose), but Washington at Pittsburgh is the only game between current playoff qualifiers.  Also, the AnaheimWinnipeg and MinnesotaChicago games are rematches of some Western Conference playoff matchups of a season ago.

In addition for the reasons stated above, the MinnesotaChicago game is an important one because a Wild win propels them into the playoffs.

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Tonight’s game will be Minnesota‘s 11th in the Game of the Day series, where they own a 5-5-0 record, with their most recent being March 10’s 2-1 loss on home ice to Edmonton.  Chicago has been featured 21 times before tonight’s contest, and own a 10-9-2 record in such games.  Their most recent in the series was Wednesday’s 3-2 home loss to Philadelphia.

The 33-28-11 Minnesota Wild currently sit sixth in the Central Division and eighth in the Western Conference, making them the first team outside the playoff picture in that conference.  To get to that position, they’ve played the ninth best defense in the league, but have only managed the 13th fewest goals scored.

Led by Jared Spurgeon’s 139 blocks, Minnesota has allowed only 2023 shots to reach 26-22-6 Devan Dubnyk and co., of which they’ve collectively saved 91.6% for 182 goals against, the ninth fewest in the league.  The Wild should make all efforts to avoid taking penalties, as their 77.01% kill rate that has allowed 40 power play goals ranks fourth worst in the NHL.  To slightly make up for that deficiency, the Wild has scored six shorthanded goals (led by Erik Haula’s two shorties), one more than the league average.

Even with Zach Parise’s 199 shots, the Wild have only fired the puck 2067 times, with 9% finding the back of the net for 188 goals (led by Charlie Coyle’s 21 tallies), 13th fewest in the NHL.  As far as Minnesota‘s special teams go, the power play is miles ahead, as their 19.28% success rate, good for 43 extra man goals (led by Mikko Koivu’s nine power play tallies), ranks 14th best in the league.

The Wild played yesterday to a 3-2 shootout victory over the Carolina Hurricanes on home ice.  With a win today, Minnesota could advance themselves past the Avalanche for eighth in the conference, even if only for a day, but they will need the help of the Oilers.

The 42-24-6 Chicago Blackhawks are currently the third best team in the Central Division, and fourth best in the Western Conference.  They’ve played stellar hockey all season, as they are the seventh best defense and eighth best offense.

Even with Trevor van Riemsdyk’s 141 blocks, the Hawks have allowed 2207 shots to reach 35-18-4 Corey Crawford (questionable for tonight’s game as of Saturday night) and co., of which they’ve collectively saved a solid 92.3% for only 176 goals against, the seventh fewest in the league.  The best way to beat this Chicago defense is to get under their skin and get them to commit penalties, as their 78.64% kill rate that has allowed 44 power play goals against ranks seventh worst in the NHL.  To make up for that poor effort, the Hawks have scored eight shorthanded goals.

Led by Patrick Kane’s 254 shots, Chicago has fired the puck 2213 times, with 9% finding the back of the net for 201 goals (led by Kane’s 39 tallies), eighth most in the NHL.  The Hawks have truly excelled on the power play, as their 22.52% success rate, good for 50 extra man goals (led by Kane’s 15 power play tallies) ranks third best in the league.

Chicago‘s most recent game was their four goal shutout victory in Winnipeg Friday night.   A win tonight pulls the Blackhawks back within a point of the second seed in the Central Division, but a loss allows the Predators to get within three points of a division qualifier should they beat the Kings tomorrow.

In addition to being  an important game this season, it was also a Western Conference Semifinal last season   It’s not one that Wild fans like being reminded of though, as Chicago swept Minnesota on their way to their sixth franchise Stanley Cup Championship.

Some players to keep an eye on in tonight’s game include Chicago‘s Crawford (seven shutouts [leads the league], 35 wins [tied for third most in the league] and .926 save percentage [fourth best in the league]) (should he play) and Kane (92 points [leads the league] and 39 goals [second most in the league] and 53 assists [tied for second most in the league]) & Minnesota‘s Coyle (21 goals, 19 of which were at even strength [both lead the team]) and Koivu (48 points, nine of which were power play goals and 23 were even-strength assists [all lead the team]).

With the exception of the injured Crawford, it seems as if Chicago has gotten out of their funk from earlier in the week.  Since Minnesota‘s offense is as much of a threat, Chicago should be able to keep pressure off Scott Darling to ensure a home victory.

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