Scouting the Wild (No. 10 seed, 35-27-7)
Kevin Fiala, RW: One of the most dynamic scorers in the NHL at the time the season paused, Fiala had 14 goals and 12 assists in his last 18 games to finish with a team-high 54 points. He could be quite a handful for Vancouver if he rediscovers that rhythm.
Alex Stalock, G: Stalock was on a 9-3-1 run before the season stopped — an impressive showing by the backup goalie that could give him the edge over Devan Dubnyk for the Game 1 start. After mid-January, Stalock ranked among the NHL’s best in wins (11), save percentage (.920), goals-against average (2.25) and shutouts (three).
Joel Eriksson Ek, C: Shutting down Vancouver star Elias Pettersson will be pivotal to the Wild’s success. Cue Eriksson Ek, who is the best-equipped forward to take on the matchup. He has developed a reputation as being a thorn in the opposition’s side, exactly what the Wild will need.
MUST STEP UP
Matt Dumba, D: Although Dumba didn’t meet his offensive targets coming off major surgery, he’s a perfect candidate to benefit from a fresh start. He and partner Jonas Brodin will likely match against Vancouver’s top six, but he could also make a difference on the power play if his one-timer is on point.
Marcus Foligno, LW: A physical pest who can kill penalties and chip in secondary scoring, Foligno has all the tools to flip momentum in this series. And that boost from the bottom-six forward group could be vital to the Wild.
BREAKING IT DOWN
Offense: Once Dean Evason took over as coach from Bruce Boudreau in mid-February, the Wild implemented a more aggressive approach up ice. No other NHL team scored more goals over the course of the 12 games Evason coached in the regular season than the Wild (43). Overall, the team sat 12th by averaging 3.16 goals per game. Zach Parise had a team-high 25 goals, and Kevin Fiala’s 23 tied his career high. Where the Wild might have the edge vs. Vancouver is in the depth department; its third- and fourth-liners combined for 56 goals this season.
Defense: This is the Wild’s strength, especially when the action is at even strength. The Wild gave up the fewest scoring chances at 5-on-5 in the regular season, and Ryan Suter and Jared Spurgeon had one of the best goal differentials among top pairings in the league. Jonas Brodin also was extremely effective. The unit also wasn’t afraid to jump up in the play, with Suter one of the top-scoring defenders since mid-November, Spurgeon scoring nine second-half goals and Brodin racking up a career high in points (28).
Goaltending: Stalock is lean on playoff experience, but he proved he can handle more opportunity, becoming the fifth goalie in franchise history to record 20 wins in a season. Aside from Devan Dubnyk, the Wild also has Kaapo Kahkonen and Mat Robson waiting in the wings. Kahkonen is an especially intriguing option since he’s the reigning American Hockey League goalie of the year.
Special teams: The Wild’s power play finished 11th at 21.3% and found a groove late in the season, tallying 14 goals in its final 18 games, the second most in the NHL over that stretch. Zach Parise (12 goals), Kevin Fiala and Ryan Suter were major catalysts. The penalty kill wasn’t as proficient, sitting 25th at 77.2 %.
Forward lines: Jordan Greenway-Eric Staal-Kevin Fiala; Zach Parise-Joel Eriksson Ek-Luke Kunin; Marcus Foligno-Alex Galchenyuk-Mats Zuccarello; Ryan Donato-Mikko Koivu-Ryan Hartman.
Defense pairs: Ryan Suter-Jared Spurgeon; Jonas Brodin-Matt Dumba; Carson Soucy-Brad Hunt.
Goalies: Alex Stalock, Devan Dubnyk.
Spares: Fs Luke Johnson, Gerry Mayhew, Victor Rask, Kyle Rau and Nico Sturm; Ds Matt Bartkowski, Louie Belpedio and Brennan Menell; Gs Kaapo Kahkonen and Mat Robson.
Injuries: D Greg Pateryn (upper body).
SCOUTING the Canucks (No. 7 seed, 36-27-6)
Jacob Markstrom, G: Vancouver’s MVP, Markstrom is coming off a superb season in which he posted a career-best .918 save percentage that was fourth-best among goalies who logged at least 40 games. He was 7-1 in games when he faced 40 or more shots. His season was cut short by a knee injury that sidelined him at the end of February, but the Canucks are counting on him to be a rock.
Elias Pettersson, C: The reigning Calder Trophy winner’s 27 goals were tied for the team lead, and he finished second in points with 66. With electric hands and playmaking instincts, Pettersson has the potential to single-handedly take over the series.
Quinn Hughes, D: The rookie had no trouble fitting into the NHL. His average ice time (21 minutes, 53 seconds) proved that, and Hughes wasn’t just sturdy in his own end; he became just the third defenseman in the NHL’s modern era to pace rookies in scoring (53 points), and he also led all NHL rookies in assists (45).
MUST STEP UP
Brock Boeser, RW: The Burnsville native’s production dipped this season to 16 goals in 57 games. Boeser also had a rough second half, missing more than a month because of a rib injury and going without a goal in the last 12 games he played. After the four-month break to recharge, he could bounce back in a meaningful way.
Tyler Toffoli, RW: A trade acquisition ahead of the deadline, Toffoli made a splash in his Canucks debut by scoring six goals in 10 games. He’s also a Stanley Cup champion, having won in 2014 with Los Angeles, and that pedigree only strengthens Vancouver’s top line.
BREAKING IT DOWN
Offense: The Canucks are dangerous with the puck, boasting a top-10 offense that averaged 3.25 goals per game. Captain Bo Horvat and Tanner Pearson were the club’s other 20-goal scorers besides Elias Pettersson and J.T. Miller. Vancouver was also one of the top faceoff teams during the regular season at 54%, and Horvat (57.3 %) is one of the best in the NHL. Production starts to wane lower in the lineup, but that’s where the team gets grittier with Antoine Roussel and Brandon Sutter.
Defense: The Canucks were near the bottom third in the league in goals-against average (3.10). Still, Vancouver’s back end has plenty of experience in Alexander Edler and Christopher Tanev. The two ranked third (162) and fourth (159), respectively, in blocked shots in the NHL. Edler eats up the most ice time, averaging 22 minutes, 37 seconds per game, and he’s a playoff veteran. But the Canucks had no issue trusting youngster Quinn Hughes.
Goaltending: This is Jacob Markstrom’s first trip to the playoffs, but he’s no stranger to big stages. He led Vancouver’s minor league club to the American Hockey League final in 2015 and has fared well in international competition for Sweden. The team also has Thatcher Demko, who played when Markstrom was hurt.
Special teams: At 24.2%, the Canucks had one of the best power plays in the NHL this season; only Edmonton (59) had more goals than Vancouver (57). Bo Horvat was a regular finisher with 12 goals. The Canucks’ penalty kill was more ho-hum, ranking in the middle of the pack at 80.5%.
Forward lines: J.T. Miller-Elias Pettersson-Tyler Toffoli; Tanner Pearson-Bo Horvat-Brock Boeser; Antoine Roussel-Adam Gaudette-Micheal Ferland; Tyler-Motte-Jay Beagle-Brandon Sutter.
Defense pairs: Alexander Edler-Troy Stecher; Quinn Hughes-Christopher Tanev; Oscar Fantenburg-Tyler Myers.
Goalies: Jacob Markstrom, Thatcher Demko.
Spares: Fs Justin Bailey, Loui Eriksson, Tyler Graovac, Zack MacEwen and Jake Virtanen; Ds Jordie Benn, Jalen Chatfield, Olli Juolevi and Brogan Rafferty; G Louis Domingue.
Injuries: F Josh Leivo (fractured kneecap).