The Vancouver Canucks are on the verge of elimination from the playoff race but Willie Desjardins will be quietly confident of spoiling the Minnesota Wild party this weekend. At the time of writing, the Wild, currently 7/1 with bet365 to win the Stanley Cup this year, have lost seven of their last ten outings and Vancouver could surprise a few at Xcel Energy Center on Saturday night.
Vancouver’s woes in attack have limited their chances of success this season and the visitors will need to improve if they are to challenge the Wild on home ice. As of March 23rd, only the Colorado Avalanche (140) have managed fewer goals then the Canucks (166) but the Canadian side tend to save their best performances for the big stage.
In their most recent encounter, Vancouver emerged winners in an overtime clash with the Chicago Blackhawks; Minnesota’s closest rivals for the divisional title. The Canucks have shown that they can go toe-to-toe with the best teams in the league at times this year but inconsistency has let them down on more than one occasion.
KEY MAN: Bo Horvat. Many believe that the 21-year-old has surpassed the Sedin brothers as Vancouver’s main man… and they’d be right. This season, Horvat has matured into a top talent; scoring 20 goals whilst assisting 27. He leads the Canucks in points and has the third-best shooting percentage on the team, not bad considering he has had 130 efforts on goal.
Since the beginning of March, Horvat has scored two goals and assisted five in 10 outings; a solid return. Considering Vancouver’s offensive woes, Horvat has done incredibly well and Canucks supporters will be resting their hopes on his capable shoulders in this contest.
At the other end of the spectrum, you have Minnesota. They have always been there or thereabouts but this could finally be their year to challenge the Stanley Cup monopoly. On paper, the Wild have the resources and talent required to go all the way to the showpiece series but they must get back to winning ways sooner rather than later.
The Pittsburgh Penguins have scored 252 times this season but Minnesota aren’t too far behind on 235. The Wild are going through a rough patch right now but this could give them the edge to push on and challenge for hockey’s ultimate prize. If they fulfil their potential, they should enjoy a comfortable Saturday evening at Xcel Energy Center.
KEY MAN: Mikael Granlund. An honourable mention must go to Minnesota head coach Bruce Boudreau here. The Anaheim Ducks sacked Boudreau at the end of last season but their loss has been Minnesota’s gain. At the beginning of the campaign, Boudreau had the second best coaching record in NHL history for coaches with over 100 games in charge.
Since his arrival, the Wild have transformed into an elite side. Granlund has been central to their success too, racking up more points (66) than his team-mates – leading the team in goals and assists. Watch this space, Granlund could flourish against the Canucks.
Neither side is in great form right now but Minnesota will be desperate to build momentum ahead of the postseason. The Wild have struggled to inspire confidence in recent weeks but their home form is very impressive indeed.
Five defeats in six away fixtures has skewed the Central Division standings somewhat and it wouldn’t be a huge surprise to see the Wild produce a convincing performance to claim the win in this clash. Vancouver did Minnesota a favour against the Chicago Blackhawks earlier this week but going up against the Wild themselves may be a step too far.
WILD 3-1 CANUCKS