Thursday, September 11, 2008

Back at it

I know it's been a while since I've taken time to write on here, but I'm back. With football season already underway and hockey coming soon (training camp is only 9 days away), I figured now was as good as any to come back.

Throughout the last couple of weeks, pictures have surfaced of some NHL teams new third jerseys that will be worn this season. The most recent one to come out is the Carolina Hurricanes third jersey. When I first saw it, I honestly didn't know what to think of it. When I look at it, it reminds me of a youth hockey jersey. The black color definitely stands out when you look at it, and Puck Daddy makes a great point when he wonders aloud what Cam Ward will think of his defensemen wearing the same color as the puck. After reading what all the symbolism means, I can at least look at the jersey and understand why they made it the way they did. Speaking of the 'Canes, they recently made Eric Staal one of the highest paid players in the NHL. Staal signed a 7 year, $58 million contract extension that will pay him $8.25 million annually and keep him in a Hurricanes uniform until at least the 2015-2016 season. I believe the money was worth it, as long as the Hurricanes go out and spend more money to get more talent around him. Staal is a great start and I hope he can bounce back to averaging 100 points a season.

Great news coming out of Minnesota recently: Kurtis Foster, who broke his femur late last season, has been up and skating the past few days. This is good news for a guy who really didn't know how long it would take to recover. It was a pretty gruesome injury, and it's good to see Foster back on the ice.

Meanwhile, Assistant GM Tom Lynn and Ron Salcer, Marian Gaborik's agent, are in Los Angeles discussing contract options for the star winger. Gaborik, in the last year of his current contract, will probably demand a contract of at least 6 years at $8.5 million a year. As much money as it is, I believe the Wild need to spend it to keep a guy that has 50 goal potential. Gaborik set a new career best with 42 goals last season, including a 5 goal game against the New York Rangers. With Mikko Koivu, Brent Burns, and Nick Schultz all locked up, the Wild need to get Gaborik to re-sign so that they have a solid core going forward.

In week one of the NFL, injuries were the story. Tom Brady, the reigning MVP and quarterback of the New England Patriots, took a shot to the knee against the Chiefs and is out for the rest of the season with a MCL and ACL tear. Shawne Merriman, the sack machine for the San Diego Chargers, has decided to have season-ending surgery to repair two torn ligaments in his left knee. Both injuries are a major blow to each team, with the Patriots coming off a season where they went to the Super Bowl and the Chargers entering a season where they hoped to reach a Super Bowl.

As much as I hate to talk about it, I suppose I should mention the Vikings/Packers game that went on Monday night. There were ups and downs for the Vikes, but overall they didn't have a good showing in a 24-19 loss. The day after the game, the local papers blasted Tarvaris Jackson for being inconsistent and reiterating that Jackson might only have this season left to prove he can be a reliable quarterback. After watching the entire game, I can only disagree with what the paper said about Tarvaris. Sure, his passing percentage was bad, and yeah, his passer rating was low, but overall I think he did great. He had pressure on him all night, and he did as well as I've seen anyone do with guys in his face. He consistently stayed calm and delivered his throw. His receivers dropped some, and Jackson made some bad throws, but they can't all be perfect. And on the ground, Tarvaris looked fantastic. He scrambled well and showed good poise when deciding whether to throw or run. It is unfortunate the Vikings couldn't pull out a win, but I'm confident that they will recover just fine. It is obvious Tarvaris is getting better, and seeing his progress against Green Bay makes me excited for what he will do this season.

Predictions for Week 2 of the NFL:

Tennessee over Cincinnati
Green Bay over Detroit (Although that is not the way I want it to turn out)
Kansas City over Oakland
New York Giants over St. Louis
Vikings OVER Indianapolis (I will never predict a loss for the Vikings)
New Orleans over Washington
Carolina over Chicago
Jacksonville over Buffalo
Seattle over San Francisco
Atlanta over Tampa Bay (Atlanta looked great week one against Detroit)
New England over New York Jets (Matt Cassel will fill in just fine for Brady)
Arizona over Miami
San Diego over Denver
Houston over Baltimore
Cleveland over Pittsburgh (This is my upset pick, if it is even considered an upset)
Dallas over Philadelphia (And for the sake of my fantasy team, I need Romo to throw at least 4 TDs)

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Vikings fill a need, acquire Pro-Bowl DE Allen

After much deliberation as to what the Vikings may do with this draft, the decision has been made. The Vikings have agreed to trade their first round pick (17 overall) and both of their third round picks in this years draft to the Kansas City Chiefs in exchange for Jared Allen, a pro-bowl Defensive End who led the league in sacks last year with 15 1/2 in only 14 games.

For me, this trade was a no-brainer. The Vikings knew their weakest position was DE, and since they didn't land anyone in free agency, what other route was there to take? They were debating taking a DE in the draft, but the thought was that the only viable candidate (Derrick Harvey) would be gone by the Vikings pick, so they pulled a deal that fills their need and makes the team better. This move definitely makes the Vikings a major contender in the NFC. The only glaring hole the team had was at DE, and now that they filled that with the best in the business, they are looking good going into this season.

The only gripe I have about this trade is that one little mistake by Allen could cost the Vikings dearly. Allen has already been arrested for two DUI's, and one more is a year-long suspension by the league. But if Allen is asking the Vikings for a 6-year, $74 million contract, he better be sure he's not going to screw up. The contract that the Vikings are putting out there for Allen includes $31,000,069 guaranteed (his jersey number is 69). With this move out of the way, the Vikings can now concentrate on getting Tarvaris Jackson, our next biggest project, ready to guide this talented team through the playoffs and on to the Super Bowl.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Let the blaming begin: Why did the Wild fail?

It's been a tough couple of days for the Minnesota Wild and its fans alike, and it's not going to get any better as the summer wears on. After a season filled with so much expectation and promises, it was over just like that after a 2-1 defeat at the hands of the Colorado Avalanche on Saturday. So many questions remain, and the one that everybody is asking is: Who's the blame for the Wild's failure? I'm going to spread the blame out through the team, from the players to the front office, but I will admit that some are more to blame than others.

1) Jacques Lemaire: Jacques has more Stanley Cup rings in his possession than fingers on his hands, but that hasn't translated into championships here in Minnesota. It's hard to fault a guy that has shown he knows how to win, but he deserves some of the blame. The Wild make one trade at the deadline, Chris Simon, and that was originally to build up our toughness come playoff time. It turns out we didn't need the toughness against the Avalanche, therefore Lemaire decided to sit Simon. Big mistake in my opinion. Watching Simon play these last couple months of the season led me to breathe a sigh of relief; we finally had a guy that went to the front of the net and stayed there in the offensive zone (Todd Fedoruk does that too, but I'm not focusing on him right now). Simon has played in a total of three Stanley Cups, and he has a Cup to his credit, yet Lemaire decides to sit him in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. I agree he may not score as often as he used to, or that we don't really need the tough side of him, but he does what no one else on the Wild does, and that is be physical while also doing your job. How are most goals scored in the NHL? By a player setting a screen and having another play take advantage of that. Chris Simon was the one who set up the screen whenever he got a chance, but Lemaire decides to sit him. And we wonder why the Wild struggled to score this series. Lemaire switched up lines so much and sat guys that could have helped the team that he definitely has to be blamed a little bit.

2) Marian Gaborik: Just to appease most Wild fans, I would have to say that Gabby should be blamed for some of the failure, but I'm in the minority when I say he doesn't deserve too much blame. Gabby is a pure scorer and has proven that in the regular season as well as the Wilds previous playoff appearances. It sucks that Gabby didn't show up in the series against the Avalanche, but is it totally his fault? Gabby played with 4 different centers this year and scored 42 goals, yet he did the same thing in the playoffs, and scored zip. I think that with a consistent center that always played along side him, Gabby could have scored even more in the regular season and definitely gotten going in the playoffs. Either way, a team should never have to count on one player scoring to win in the playoffs.

3) Doug Risebrough: Risebrough has usually had a knack for making good decisions, but this year when it counted, he screwed up big time. Just a month into the season, the Wild lost one of their most reliable centers in Wes Walz. That opened up a huge hole at the center position that was never closed, even as the trade deadline approached. There were rumblings that the Wild might go after a center like Bobby Holik out of Atlanta, and that would have been a fantastic idea. The Wild were a good team most of the season, but acquiring a quality center to play with Gabby and win faceoffs in the offensive zone would have made them a great team. So when we need a center, what does Risebrough go out and get? A forward in Chris Simon (this is not a knock on Simon, I like him and want him to stay with the team). As soon as the trade deadline passed, I immediately questioned Risebroughs commitment to winning. We could have used another solid defensemen as well, but we got nothing. All this while our first-round opponent is out getting Peter Forsberg, Adam Foote, and Ruslan Salei. This made the difference in the series and I believe that most of the blame lies right here on Risebrough.

4) The Team: Usually I don't like to blame anybody other than the players, but this time I think it is split. I always believe most of the blame belongs to the team, since they're the ones playing the game, but again, I split the blame. The Wild actually played a pretty good series, but the better team won. Part of the reason the Wild lost was the defense: not because they were bad, but because they were tired. Once we lost Kurtis Foster to a broken leg, our defense was tremendously weaker. Then just a week before the playoffs start, Nick Schultz, arguably our most consistent defensemen, goes down with an appendectomy that sidelined him until game 6. That left guys like Brent Burns, Kim Johnsson, and Martin Skoula to play upwards of 30 minutes a game with back-to-back games thrown into the series. All that together is a recipe for disaster.

The Wild will undergo a major makeover this offseason, so who knows if they will make it back into the postseason next year. Hopefully with Craig Leipold now taking over as owner of the team, the Wild will be spending some money to bring in some major talent to compliment the talent they already have. Re-signing Gabby would be a good place to start, and then they should go after either Marian Hossa or Brian Campbell. A high-profile player that has proven himself will be the key to bring in, and if it doesn't get done, it will be a disappointment. Now that the Wild season is over, it is time to shift gears to the Twins and the Vikings.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Minnesota Vikings: A possible 13 win team?

The NFL schedule was released this morning, much to the delight of fans everywhere. I always love the beginning of the season because it enables fans of all teams to believe their team can win it all (except Lions fans, I can't honestly believe they think they have a chance). The Minnesota Vikings, coming off an off-season that was full of moves, look to have a very favorable schedule. Here is the schedule in its entirety:

Sept. 8: Vikings at Green Bay (6 p.m. Monday, ESPN)
Sept. 14: Indianapolis at Vikings (noon, CBS)
Sept. 21: Carolina at Vikings (noon, FOX)
Sept. 28: Vikings at Tennessee (noon, FOX)
Oct. 6: Vikings at New Orleans (7:30 p.m., ESPN)
Oct. 12: Detroit at Vikings (noon, FOX)
Oct. 19: Vikings at Bears (noon, FOX)
Oct. 26: BYE
Nov. 2: Houston at Vikings (noon, CBS)
Nov. 9: Green Bay at Vikings (noon, FOX)
Nov. 16: Vikings at Tampa Bay (noon, FOX)
Nov. 23: Vikings at Jacksonville (noon, FOX)
Nov. 30: Chicago at Vikings (7:15 p.m., NBC)
Dec. 7: Vikings at Detroit (noon, FOX)
Dec. 14: Vikings at Arizona (3:05 p.m., FOX)
Dec. 21: Atlanta at Vikings (noon, FOX)
Dec. 28: N.Y. Giants at Vikings (noon, FOX)

Looks good, right? Ok, so maybe I'm reaching for some stars when I think the Vikings could win up to 13 games this season, but it might be a legit prediction. Starting at the top of the schedule, the Vikings should be able to get off to a good start with a pounding at the hands of the Packers. The Vikings, after their upgrades and the Packers loss of Favre, are definitely the better of the two teams when they meet. Then the Vikings run into the Peyton Manning-led Colts, a tough game even though it's at home. I did have the Vikings losing this game, but you never know. I believe this game will come down to the Vikings secondary and whether or not they can keep Manning in check. Next on the block is the Carolina Panthers, a team that doesn't match up with the Vikings at all. Steve Smith is far and away their best player, and without a solid quarterback, he can't even be utilized (as evident by my terrible Fantasy season last year in which I leaned on him way too much). Then the Tennessee Titans host the Vikings in a game that shouldn't be too difficult for the Vikes. I love the Titans and the direction their going with Vince Young at QB, and I do think they are a good team, but I still think the Vikings are better all around. Then the Vikings travel to New Orleans to take on the Saints. The Saints, with plenty of good players but coming off a very disappointing season, will play the Vikings close, but in the end, I again have to believe my Vikings would beat a team like that. Of course I believe this game is contingent on how Drew Brees and Reggie Bush perform, but I don't see both of them lighting it up, at least in the same game. The Vikings then have the privilege of hosting the Detroit Lions, the perennial cellar-dweller in the NFC North. I hate to pick on the Lions, but even when they do well (like last year), they still screw up at the end of the year. As I'm sure you picked up by now, I am taking the Vikings in this matchup. Minnesota then travels to the windy city to take on the Bears. I don't know what to think of the Bears this year, but right now, my thought is that they won't be very good. They still have Rex taking the snaps and they don't have a running game. I wouldn't be surprised if the Vikings shut the Bears out in this game. With my predictions, that puts the Vikings at an impressive 6-1 going into the BYE week. Although that may be very lofty, I like to think big for my hometown teams.

The Vikings first matchup after their week off is the Houston Texans at home. The Texans, another team I like to see succeed, are not a team I see keeping up with the Vikes. As has been the theme with this post, you'll find that I say that teams "cannot keep up with the Vikings" quite often. That is because of four reasons:

1) Adrian Peterson
2) Our outstanding defensive line
3) Our outstanding offensive line
4) And Adrian Peterson

If those reasons don't impress you, then...well you're not on the same page as me. But still, the Vikings have a great team that should be able to keep up with most teams this year. Anyway, back to the schedule. After the Texans, the Vikings have their second game against the Packers, but this time the game is at the Metrodome. Again I do not see the Pack putting any real pressure on our defense, so I see another semi-blowout in the Vikings favor. The Purple then travel to sunny Tampa Bay to take on the Buccaneers. Although the Bucs don't strike me as a team with a lot of firepower, I just don't see the Vikings winning 8 games in a row, even if I wanted it to happen. This is a game that I will concede and give to the Bucs. Next up is a very very talented Jacksonville team. I have a ton of faith in the Vikings, but the Jaguars are too good. As much as it pains me to say, I believe the Vikings will go on a losing streak at this point in the season. The Vikings will rebound from their losing streak though when they take on the Bears again. I am really glad that the Vikings are in the NFC North because we play the Bears twice. It won't be a difficult task to take down the Bears again, and that will get the Vikes back on the right track. Next the Vikings take on another divisional foe in the Lions. The Lions are not a good team, so again I see the Vikings having no trouble. The next couple games are against the Cardinals and Falcons, respectively. I kind of see these two teams as evenly matched, although I think the Cards are a bit better. I can see the Vikings blowing both of these teams out, although the Cardinals could pull a fast one on the Vikes. The Vikings wrap up the regular season against the defending world champion New York Giants. This will be a tough game, simply because after last year the Giants proved they are a good team, but also last year the Vikings dismantled the Giants with a team that isn't as good as they will be this year. I can see the Giants winning this game, but I still choose the Vikings because I like them better.

I know that these predictions are kind of far-fetched, but I have a lot of confidence in the Purple this year. They upgraded all around and got guys that will add to the team right away (Bernard Berrian, Madieu Williams, and Thomas Tapeh). If the Vikes do well in the draft and are able to grab a guy like Derrick Harvey, they will be in good shape. If Tarvaris Jackson can really become a big time quarterback this year after a decent season last year, the Vikings offense will be as potent as any.

Wild deliver crushing blow to Avalanche

In a must-win game for the Minnesota Wild, it was a couple of the usual suspects that showed up and got the W for the visiting team. Niklas Backstrom was unbelievable in making 44 saves en route to a 3-2 overtime victory for the Minnesota Wild.

It was a game that featured lead changes throughout and plenty of action up and down the ice. The Wild, for the third game this series and third game in a row, let in the first goal of the game, a rebound shot by Andrew Brunette that put the Avalanche up 1-0 at the 15:19 mark of the first. There are so many amazing story lines already in this series, but the most telling is the Wild's tendency to break out in the third period and overtime. The game stayed at 1-0 through the second period as the Avalanche fired 17 shots at Backstrom. Both teams were getting there chances, yet neither team was breaking through. This was a game that Colorado had a ton of chances to get ahead, due to the horrible officiating that was displayed. Every call, no matter how little or how blatant, was a penalty on the Wild. It literally seemed like the Wild would kill a penalty, and then immediately get called for another one. The Wild had their chances on the powerplay too, just not as many as there should have been. When the third period rolled around, it was the Wild taking control again. The Wild in this series have a total of 8 goals: 6 of those have come in the third period, while the other two came in overtime. Needless to say, the Wild are quite lucky that they can keep the game within reach in the first couple periods. True to their form this series, the Wild quickly tied the game at 1-1 when at the 7:13 mark of the third Todd Fedoruk hustled down the Avalanche end, scooped up the puck and swiftly threw it in front of the net where Mikko Koivu was waiting to tie the game. It was a beautiful goal that involved two of the Wild's most important players right now in Fedoruk and Koivu.

Tying the game up was a boost to the Wild, who were looking for something to give them the momentum. After Koivu was called for a tripping penalty at the 10:26 mark of the period, the Wild continued to dump the puck for about a minute before Pavol Demitra was able to slip by the Colorado defenders. Demo carried the puck up the left side with Brian Rolston on his right and Colorado defensemen Jean-Michael Liles in between them. Demo stick-handled the puck through the left faceoff circle where he got Liles and goalie Jose Theodore to commit. Demitra then threw the puck across the ice to a streaking Rolston, who shot the puck into the empty net to give the Wild the lead with less than 10 minutes to play. Although they had the momentum in their favor, you can never count out the Avalanche when they put Joe Sakic and Peter Forsberg out there. It took just over 3 minutes for Colorado to tie the game again, this time on a bouncing puck in front of the Minnesota net that Sakic was able to corral and put pass Backstrom. The teams continued to play evenly for the rest of the game until time was winding down in regulation and David Jones took a slashing penalty to give the Wild a powerplay with 8 seconds remaining in the game.

The Wild came out firing on the powerplay in overtime, but of course it was to no avail. Theodore was a stone wall out there, as he has been the entire series. The overtime featured even more scoring chances for each team, but both goaltenders were committed to keeping their team in the game. Finally at the 11:58 mark of overtime, the Wild was rewarded for its hard work when Rolston hustled down the ice to avoid an icing call and threw the puck into the middle of the ice to a waiting Pierre-Marc Bouchard, who buried the puck behind Theodore and sent the Wild into a frenzy.

This was a wicked important game for the Wild to win, not simply because it puts them up 2-1 in the series, but also because it helps reclaim their home ice advantage they had taken away when Colorado won game one in St. Paul. The real test for both teams will be tomorrow night when they play their second game in two days. With the Wild shorthanded due to injuries and the Avalanche having no shortage of older veterans, it will be interesting to see which team will come out firing first in a game that should ultimately decide how the rest of this series goes.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Mikko Koivu quietly becomes one of the most reliable centers in the NHL

Mikko Koivu, one of the few mainstays in the Minnesota Wild lineup, has proven now more than ever why he is one of the best centers in the National Hockey League. Coming off the best year of his short NHL career, Koivu is the epitome of what a center needs to be, even if he doesn't get the recognition he deserves. After a regular season in which he tallied 11 goals and 31 assists, he has already collected two goals and one assist in the Wild's current playoff series against the Colorado Avalanche. In recent years in the NHL, it has become increasingly important to have a good core of centers due to the rule changes that came about after the lockout, especially on a team like the Wild, where coach Jacques Lemaire preaches two-way hockey from his centers. Although currently a little shaky at that position, the Wild are in great shape for the future with Mikko Koivu leading the way.

Koivu has never been one to garner attention; heck, he didn't even start out as a scoring center in the early stages of his career. When the Wild drafted him with their first pick in the 2001 draft, they drafted based on what they saw in the future, not the stats he had accumulated so far. From 1999 to 2004, Koivu collected just 32 goals while playing in Finland, and 11 of those goals came in the 2000-2001 campaign. It wasn't until the Wild finally signed Koivu and assigned him to the Houston Aeros that he blossomed into a real scoring threat. In his first season with the Aeros in 2004-2005, Koivu scored 20 goals to go along with 28 assists, the first time he showed that he had any real scoring threat. That next season, Koivu made it out of camp and on to the Minnesota Wild roster. That year, Koivu played in 64 games and had 6 goals and 15 assists to go along with a +/- rating of -9. Although he showed good signs of progress, the Wild were counting on him to be their number one center, and with numbers like those, that wasn't what he was showing. When the 2006-2007 season rolled around, Koivu looked like he was ready to shed his scoring demons and get on the right track. Koivu had 20 goals and 34 assists that year to go along with a very important +6 rating. Koivu also had his first career NHL playoff goal that season, and proved that he can be a scoring threat as well as a shut-down center. Although Koivu had made good strides during the 06-07 season, it was his most recent season, 07-08, that had the rest of the NHL buzzing.

This season, Koivu totaled 11 goals and 31 assists with a career high +13 rating, but those numbers came in only 57 games. On November 17th in a game against the Vancouver Canucks, Koivu tried to skate past Vancouver's Mattias Ohlund in the neutral zone. Koivu brought his arm up in a bid to get around Ohlund, but Ohlund thought it was a blatant elbow to the head. Ohlund quickly reacted and took a brutal two-handed swing at Koivu's leg, breaking a bone in it and sidelining him for 24 games. With Koivu primed for a breakout season, this injury was a huge blow to the Wild. Luckily, the Wild recovered and Koivu came back and continued his scoring to propel the Wild to their first Northwest Division title. Although it is easy to look at stats and put all your eggs in that basket in terms of importance, it is the intangibles that Koivu brings to the table that make him among the great centers in the game right now.

Jacques Lemaire is all about defense. Although most teams and coaches around the league believe it slows the game down, Lemaire's style led the Wild to a division championship. His system is one that focuses on shutting down opposing offenses before worrying about scoring your own goals. The defense is taught to clamp back and cut off the forecheck, while the forwards are taught to find space and take a shot if they have one (unfortunately the Wild could still use some help in that department). This leaves the center to take on both roles, yet all within the top of both ends faceoff circles. While the centers in Lemaire's system are told to focus more on defense, when they get into the offensive zone, they are supposed to stay behind the top of the faceoff circles in order to be able to transition more fluently. That is exactly what makes Koivu so good at what he does. Although largely unnoticed, Koivu has become one of the best two-way centers in the game, creating a myriad of scoring chances as well as playing a brilliant neutral zone game and having a great backcheck. Koivu is usually playing on the Wild's checking line beside forwards Stephane Veilleux and Branko Radivojevic, and there is no question as to what his job is: shut down the other teams top line. The beauty of Koivu's game is that he can do that all while being able to rush up the ice and score on his own, or get the puck in the opposing zone so that the next line can create chances. It can't be an easy thing to do as a center, having your main job be defense. But Koivu knows his role and has shown vast improvement the last couple of seasons, a big relief to a team that is a little weak at center. This season, with the way Koivu has been playing, Lemaire has been inserting him into both the checking line and the top line, sometimes playing him alongside Marian Gaborik. When playing alongside a playmaker like Gaborik or playing on the checking line that doesn't get a whole lot of recognition, it's unfortunate that Koivu doesn't get the attention he deserves.

Most people that know of Mikko Koivu most likely know of him because of his brother: Saku Koivu, the captain of the Montreal Canadiens. But there is no doubt that soon enough Mikko will gain the spotlight from his older brother. Although largely unnoticed by the rest of the league, you would think that such an important player would be more known throughout Minnesota, a state that lives and breathes hockey, but unfortunately that isn't the case. Even in his home arena, Koivu is rarely recognized as one of the three stars of the game unless he had a couple goals or a couple of assists, but what Koivu brings to this team is so much more to that. Watching Koivu all year, I have seen two main points that stand out in his game: He doesn't make mistakes (ever); and he has some of the best moves you will ever see. Most goaltenders in the Western Conference can attest to the fact that Koivu has one of the sickest penalty shots around. His moves during games may not be the ones that end up as top plays like Alex Ovechkin's or Sidney Crosby's, but his are just as effective as anybody elses. Koivu has never been one to seek out attention. He seems content to be playing on a team that has more recognizable players such as Gaborik, Brian Rolston, and Pavol Demitra. But as his game continues to get better and better, there is no doubt that one day he will garner the attention that he deserves in the form of All-Star selections and Hart trophys.

All stats courtesy of TSN

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Wild continue to fight through injuries

The Wild has officially been bitten by the injury bug at the absolute worst possible time of the season. With Nick Schultz (appendectomy) and Kurtis Foster (broken femur) already out for the rest of the series with Colorado (Schultz is slated to appear sometime during the second round, assuming the Wild get that far), the Wild are lucky to be tied at one game a piece heading into the games in Denver.

The injury list seems to be growing day by day, although the most recent injuries are not preventing players from sitting...yet. Martin Skoula has been playing on a bum leg for the last couple games, making our defensive corps even weaker, and Branko Radivojevic is said to be nursing a leg injury of his own. Radio's injury, although kept under wraps pretty good, seems to be the most serious. He is actually in jeopardy of sitting for game 3. Wild coach Jacques Lemaire seems adamant that Radio will be sitting on Monday, but General Manager Doug Risebrough is in disagreement stating he is "day-to-day." It wouldn't be beneficial to lose a forward like Radivojevic, but at least the Wild could adjust accordingly. If Radio were to sit, it would open up a spot for Chris Simon, who I think should have been in the first two games anyway (3 Stanley Cup appearances and 1 ring? That experience should be out there). On defense, it's a whole different story. Already being two defensemen down, it is imperative that our defense stays intact from now on.

Since Schultz went down with his appendectomy, many beat writers around hockey have been writing the Wild off (including Minnesota's own Michael Russo) and saying that the series is now Colorado's to win. Obviously being a huge fan of the Wild, I disagree. My prediction of course has something to do with how much I root for Minnesota, but I also approach the series realistically. Losing Schultz is huge, no doubt, but the Wild have enough adversity to get through it. Since he went down, guys like Brent Burns, Kim Johnsson, and Keith Carney have all stepped up and filled their roles just like they should. The Wild have plenty of experience on the blueline, and although guys will have to log more than 30 minutes of ice time, defensemen Petteri Nummelin put it best: "It's the playoffs, you never get tired." If the Wild can get off to a good start in Denver, there chances of advancing are greatly improved, and if they advance and get Schultz back healthy, there's no limit as to just how far they can go.