Thursday, May 1, 2014

Wild Defeats Avs, Series Thoughts


In the end I think this series was about experience and depth. The Wild just had a little more of both, and was able to take advantage of those differences when it mattered the most. Colorado probably has more top-end talent than Minnesota. I do not think we have the guns to match what MacKinnon (as sure a star in the making as exists in the NHL right now), Landeskog, Duchene and Stastny can bring. And O'Reilly is no slouch either, although he is really cast more in the Wild player mold of sub-elite offensive talent rounded out by excellent three-zone tenacity. With Barrie organizing from the back, you do wonder if either of these past two games would have ended up differently.

But, where the Avs were really a one-line team until Duchene came back, and then a one-plus line team when he came back , the Wild got more contributions throughout their lineup. The goals from Nino and Heatley last night, for example. Colorado had nine forwards finish with a total of 43 points. Minnesota had 11 forwards finish with a total of 50 points. Both teams' defenses contributed 12 points.

Put another way, Suter was the highest-scoring defenseman for the Wild, with four points in seven games. He currently stands 8th on the team in playoff scoring. Holden was the highest-scoring defenseman for the Avs, with five points in seven games. He currently stands 5th on the team in playoff scoring. (Barrie finished with two points in two-and-a-half games, for what it's worth.) You know who has the best plus/minus on the Wild right now? Heatley (+5). I know, I'm surprised, too. This was a very close series, and the point is the Wild got just enough additional scoring depth to win.

As far as experience, the Wild started with more recent playoff experience (from last year), but then also learned and drew on experience gained early in the series, and put it to work at the end. Again, we are talking incrementally here, as close as this series obviously was. But overcoming four one-goal deficits in a game seven is pretty remarkable. Cuts both ways (you gave up the lead four times!), but the Wild just was not a team that has that kind of mental fortitude - until lately. Interestingly, where the Avs had a decided experience advantage was in goal, and Varlamov could not protect four leads last night. Obviously some of Avs goals were stoppable, and I am not saying the Wild won the goaltending match-up so much as they survived a shootout. But you put a couple defensemen (Barrie and ?) on that Avs team and look out.

And, as good a job as I thought Patrick Roy did, I thought Yeo was able to adapt better over the course of the series. Hey, Yeo's team was the only one to win on the road (granted he had one more kick at that can than Roy did). I was impressed with Roy's demeanor and ability to motivate his men to carry out his game plan, in general. I was a Patrick Roy, the goalie, fan - arrogance included. But I'll admit I was surprised he has been as effective as he's been as a coach. But maybe Yeo's ability to draw on last season's (brief) playoffs gave him just that much more of an edge?

And I have been harsh on Yeo a lot in this space, and elsewhere. But he has really impressed me since the calendar turned over the 2014. And there can be no debating that he has this team playing with more poise and confidence than I have maybe ever seen from a Wild team. At this point I have to think he is going to get a new contract from the Wild, and he has earned it.

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