Wild's Zach Parise knows Blackhawks will be big challenge

Minnesota's Zach Parise fends off Colorado's Cody McLeod during the Wild-Avs first-round series....

Minnesota's Zach Parise fends off Colorado's Cody McLeod during the Wild-Avs first-round series. (AFP)

RANDY SPORTAK, Calgary Sun

, Last Updated: 11:13 PM ET

While basking in the joy of his team’s thrilling Game 7 comeback win in overtime, Zach Parise was told the importance of the Minnesota Wild’s achievement.

Moreover, it was intimated that his team’ opening-round series victory over the Colorado Avalanche, capped by a 5-4 win on Wednesday in Denver, was exactly why he’d been brought to the fold.

“I came here to do a little more than win one series,” said Parise, who arrived two summers ago along with defenceman Ryan Suter with matching 13-year, $98-million US contracts.

“But we’ve got to win the first one. It’s baby steps. The first one feels good.”

The first Stanley Cup playoff series victory for Parise as part of the Wild should feel good. He’s the native son who not only returned home via free-agency, but brought along a top-flight defenceman in Suter to anchor the blue line.

However, as difficult as it was for Minnesota to eliminate the Avs, bank on it being that much tougher when the Wild kicks off its second-round series with the defending champion Chicago Blackhawks on Friday night.

For all the Avs achieved this past season to claim top spot in the Central Division, the Blackhawks are simply that much better.

Want offence? Chicago finished second only to the Anaheim Ducks in regular-season scoring, then pumped 20 goals past the stingy St. Louis Blues in its six-game opening-round series.

Want defence? The Blackhawks were better than the Avs there, too, thanks to their mobility and puck-moving talents, and came through the first round as the Western Conference’s best defenders.

Want experience? Well, we’re talking about a Windy City crew with almost the same team that sipped champagne from Lord Stanley’s mug a year ago — and that was the second time in four years for many of the Blackhawks.

“It’s a great challenge for us. A huge challenge,” Wild captain Mikko Koivu said Thursday. “I don’t think you can plan a bigger challenge than playing the defending Stanley Cup champions. It is different than last year, but it’s a total new series and we have to prepare for Game 1 and go from there.”

The players on this year’s Wild team haven’t been here before, up against a defending Cup champ in the second round, but facing the Blackhawks isn’t new. They met last year in the opening round of the Stanley Cup tournament, which could be easy to forget since Chicago won in five games.

But there are memories lingering in the Wild dressing room.

“We’re a lot different. We’re playing a much better team game,” Parise said. “We’re healthy and that’s a big difference for us. I think the strides we’ve taken from last season to this year at this time, I think we’re all-around deeper and we’re better.

“We like how we’re playing right now as opposed to last year.”

Certainly, the Blackhawks took notice of how the Wild erased a deficit four times in Wednesday’s clinching win against the Avalanche before Nino Niederreiter scored the series clincher in overtime.

“I was able to watch a few of their games, so it was fun to see how they play,” said Hawks defenceman Brent Seabrook. “They’re going to be a tough team. They’re going to come hard and we’re going to have to be prepared and ready to play.”

Rest assured, the Wild are thinking about the lessons learned from last year’s series with the Blackhawks.

“We learned how good we have to play and how good Chicago is,” Parise said. “They really know how to take their game to another level in the playoffs, and there’s a reason why they’ve had so much success lately. It’s kind of good for us to see how the champs do it and how well you have to play.”

YEO NOT TIPPING HIS HAND

Tip his hand the night before a series opener? Not a chance.

It would be a shocker if Minnesota Wild head coach Mike Yeo didn’t know who his starting goalie for Friday’s clash against the Chicago Blackhawks would be, but there’s not a chance he’d divulge it.

“I don’t have any updates,” Yeo said in regards to the status of Darcy Kuemper, who left Wednesday’s Game 7 win over the Colorado Avalanche with just more than eight minutes remaining in regulation time.

A good guess would be Ilya Bryzgalov will start, with John Curry serving as backup.

Yeo did say Josh Harding, who was in the midst of a career season before experiencing issues with his medication to help battle multiple sclerosis, will have his equipment in Chicago. Harding hasn’t played since New Year’s Eve.

“We’re going to get his gear here and we’re going to get him skating,” Yeo said.

Sure, it caught everyone off guard when Kuemper left the game on Wednesday, but we’re talking about a team that’s had four goalies — Niklas Backstrom is the other — fare remarkably well in starts this season.

“We’ve had a pretty unique goaltending situation this year, but it really hasn’t affected us in the locker room at all,” forward Zach Parise said. “We’re comfortable with whoever we’re playing with and it really hasn't changed the way we play at all.”

 

 


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