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Feeling Minnesota

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Feeling Minnesota

Getty Images / Jonathan Daniel

Jonathan Toews #19 of the Chicago Blackhawks controls the puck against Nick Schultz #55 of the Minnesota Wild at the United Center on January 25, 2011 in Chicago, Illinois. The Wild defeated the Blackhawks 4-2.

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Even with all the shenanigans and news Wednesday morning, the Hawks still have a game to play.  Their opponent is one they must beat in regulation. That will not be an easy task.

The Minnesota Wild come in having won six of their last eight and nine of their last 12. They played Tuesday, losing to Vancouver at home 4-1. They held the Canucks to one shot in the third period while down 3-1.  The only effort they gave up was the empty-netter that sealed the game.

Clearly, they took advantage of a Canucks blue line that is so beat up it could qualify for a government bailout.

On paper, the Wild don't make any sense. They have no front line stars, though top center Mikko Koivu is one of the more underrated players around (but he hasn't scored in eight games).

Martin Havlat would be just on the cusp, and he leads them in scoring.

This team averages getting out-shot by six per game. Their goals-against and goals-for per game are exactly even, which wouldn't lead one to believe that they win so much more than they lose. But these are the anti-Hawks, meaning they score goals when they have to have them instead of give them up, they get a break here and there, and they are simply oozing confidence and belief.

A couple years ago, the Wild were synonymous with anti-insomnia pills. They trapped, and trapped some more, maybe thought about scoring, and then trapped some more.

Rarely did you see more than one Wild player forechecking in the offensive zone, and if you did then coach Jacques Lemaire would have had three simultaneous strokes.

But those days are gone, and in his second year coach Todd Richards has successfully installed an energetic, up-tempo system. This is why defenseman Brent Burns, a source of frustration for Wild fans in years past, is putting up career numbers and among the leaders in scoring amongst blue-liners. He's been let loose to pinch in the offensive zone and join the play from the back, which are his strengths.

Covering up whatever warts we think the Wild have has been some excellent goaltending from Niklas Backstrom and Jose Theodore when Backstrom was out injured. Theodore gets the start Wednesday, and in his last four starts he's been getting whiplash from looking behind himself. He's given up 19 goals in those starts. FIRE!!!

This is the kind of team playing the kind of game that the Hawks should lick their lips at the thought of.  They're not overly big, and though they've been more physical recently, they can't beat the Hawks up.

The last time these two teams met, the Hawks brought back the meth-addict level of energy on their forecheck in the first period and mauled the Wild defensemen into turnovers and mistakes.  They put up 11 straight shots at one point, but only emerged with a 2-1 lead and then turned off to lose the game.

Without injured Marek Zidlicky, the Wild only have Burns as a confident and competent puck-mover out of his own zone, and the Hawks should feast.

The Hawks should stay out of the box, as the Wild have a pretty useful power play with center Matt Cullen working a point which makes that top unit dangerous. Old friend Havlat is also not to be ignored.

But considering how badly the Hawks need this game, and the fact they now realize they may be killing their coach, they should come out as if their body hair was being singed. If they do that, there's really no reason they don't go right by the Wild tonight.

But I've said that so many times this year the words have lost all meaning.

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