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Behind Enemy Lines - Minnesota Wild fighting for a top seed

Eric Staal returns again, this time as a Minnesota Wild

NHL: Minnesota Wild at Florida Panthers Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

With today being the first full day of the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament, it is only appropriate to note that the Minnesota Wild enter tonight’s game as a number two seed in the Central Division of the NHL and in prime position to do damage in the tournament. On both sides of the puck, the Wild seem to have the talent necessary to make a deep run (particularly after an active trade deadline) and avoid upsets from Cinderella opponents early on.

Owners of the third most goals in the league, as well as the fourth best goals against totals, the Wild have demonstrated the ability to win games in a wide variety of ways. Want to play a tight 2-1 affair? Then possession monsters Nino Niederreiter and Jason Pominville will lead the way with substantial help on the back end from defensemen Jaren Spurgeon and Ryan Suter, as well as netminder Devan Dubnyk.

Want to turn the game into a track meet? Well that is Coach Bruce Boudreau’s specialty from his days in Washington and Anaheim. Ample speed and skill will be on display from Mikael Granlund who leads the team with 63 total points, Jason Zucker, Charlie Coyle, Mikko Koivu, Zach Parise and of course former Hurricane Eric Staal who has had a career revitalization with 22 goals and 52 total points in 67 games played.

Simply put, this Minnesota team is the best built Wild team since their inception as a franchise and they are poised to make some noise in the Central Division, Western Conference and perhaps beyond.

As mentioned previously, Devan Dubnyk has put together one of the more outstanding season’s this year from a goalie. With a .931 save percentage which places him right at the top of the league, along with a goals against average sitting at 2.07, a Vezina Trophy is not out of the question. With this type of help in net, Boudreau will enter the playoffs looking to lose the personal label of being unable of “winning the big one.” In his career, he has plowed through powerhouse regular seasons, but has faltered as a favorite number times. With his best play in net, perhaps this season the coach and the franchise make that next step forward in the Stanley Cup playoffs.

Specifically regarding tonight’s game, the Wild are looking to get back on track after a few rough outings against Chicago and Washington. Dubnyk may be placed back into the net ahead of backup Darcy Kemper, who was originally slated to go. With only one point separating the Wild from the first place Blackhawks in the Central, each point is massive down the stretch. Expect a desperate and talented team tonight. Can the Hurricanes match that desperation?

What to Watch For

  • The Wild possess a top-10 Power Play and Penalty Kill. With the Hurricanes Penalty Kill fading following the trade deadline, staying out of the box will be key for Carolina.
  • Eddie Lack will be in net for the Canes. Can he build on his previous two solid outings in Arizona and Colorado?
  • Eric Staal returns, and with the mojo which had all but disappeared the last time he was in Raleigh. Staal is on pace to be a 60+ point scorer for a team looking to make a deep playoff run. No, this is not 2009, but it may feel like it for the eldest Staal brother.