Stanley cup preview does the wild have what it takes for a playoff run – startribune.com

Eric Staal, C: Only three players in the NHL had more goals than Staal’s 42, which tied the franchise record for most in a single season. He also paced the Wild in points with 76 and as the team’s MVP, Staal had a knack for clutch contributions — a trend that undoubtedly makes the Wild more potent if it continues against the Jets.

Matt Dumba, D: Amid injuries to the back end, Dumba graduated to a prominent role on the top pairing next to Jonas Brodin. That responsibility will require him to be solid in his own end, but Dumba can make a difference on offense — including from the point on the power play — after racking up career highs in goals (14), assists (36) and points (50).


Matt Cullen, C: A three-time Stanley Cup champion, Cullen’s playoff pedigree could come in handy, especially since he has won it all the past two seasons with the Penguins. During those runs, Cullen provided secondary scoring, was efficient on faceoffs and starred on the penalty kill. Fulfilling those duties again would boost the Wild.

Offense: After a sporadic start, the Wild became a much more consistent threat after winger Zach Parise returned for the second half of the season following back surgery. The Wild scored the second-most goals in the Western Conference after his return (142), a surge that included 15 tallies from Parise and helped the offense finish 11th in the NHL at a 3.05 goals-per-game clip. Staal headlined the Wild’s attack, but winger Jason Zucker’s career-high 33 goals were also key. Winger Mikael Granlund was the only other 20-goal scorer, and he flashed his setup ability amid a career-best 46 assists. The defense was also involved, racking up a franchise-record 200 points that ranked second in the league.

Defense: How a retooled unit sans Suter will hold up against the dynamic Jets is likely to decide the series. The Wild will be light on experience, with rookies Carson Soucy and Nick Seeler poised to crack the Game 1 lineup, but the group should feel confident by its recent play after finishing the season with the 11th-best goals-against average in the NHL (2.79). Don’t be surprised, though, if the Wild shortens its bench to rely heavily on Spurgeon, Brodin and Dumba. A simple and safe strategy will be essential.

Goaltending: Although the Wild faded fast in the playoffs last year, Dubnyk held his own, boasting a 1.86 goals-against average and .925 save percentage. That should stir confidence. He’s also entering this series more rested, with backup Alex Stalock pinch-hitting admirably this season.

Special teams: The Wild’s 20.4 percent efficiency on the power play was the second-best clip in team history (18th in NHL), and the penalty kill closed out the season in a 27-for-28 rhythm to end up 13th at 81.3 percent. But the team probably doesn’t want to get into a special-teams battle with the Jets, who finished better in both areas.

Experience gap Jets goalie Connor Hellebuyck (top) and forward Patrik Laine (bottom right) will get their first taste of the playoffs. The Wild’s Devan Dubnyk (bottom left) was stellar in last year’s first-round loss to the Blues; Matt Cullen (middle) won the past two Stanley Cups with Pittsburgh.

Blake Wheeler, RW: The former Gophers standout from Plymouth ranked ninth in the NHL with a career-high 91 points, and his 68 assists tied Philadelphia’s Claude Giroux atop the league standings. The Jets captain powers one of the most dangerous lines in the NHL, combining with speedy rookie Kyle Connor and center Mark Scheifele to amass 77 goals and 131 assists.

Connor Hellebuyck, G: At the beginning of the season, the best-case scenario for Hellebuyck was to share time in the net with Steve Mason. When Mason faltered, Hellebuyck seized the moment and won 44 games, an NHL record for an American goaltender. His 11 regulation losses were the fewest in the NHL, and the Michigan native ranked third in the league in shutouts (six), eighth in goals-against average (2.36) and 10th in save percentage (.924).

Patrik Laine, RW: Only 19 years old, Laine leads the Jets with 44 goals, second in the NHL to Alex Ovechkin’s 49. Known for his booming shot, the Finn who was drafted second overall in 2016 is a pure scorer who has gained consistency in his sophomore season after scoring 36 goals as a rookie.

Mathieu Perreault, LW: The third-liner started the season on a hot pace, with 16 goals and 21 assists through Feb. 18. He has gone stone cold since then, contributing only one goal and one assist in the final 23 games of the regular season. With scoring depth at a premium in the playoffs, the Jets need him to shake off that slump.

Offense: The Jets led the Western Conference with 273 goals, thanks to a deep group of forwards that possess speed, size and strength. They feature five 20-goal scorers and wear down opponents by rolling four lines, making it extremely hard to match up against them. The fourth line of Andrew Copp, Adam Lowry and Brandon Tanev has been very effective in a checking role, but it also has chipped in eight goals and 11 assists in the season’s final six games.

Defense: It might be overshadowed by the team’s showy offense, but the Jets defense is a capable group that has held opponents to 216 goals, fifth-fewest of any NHL team. Jacob Trouba and Josh Morrissey form a reliable shutdown pair, Dustin Byfuglien remains one of the league’s heaviest hitters and Tyler Myers has 36 points. Toby Enstrom will miss Game 1 because of a lower-body injury but could play later in the series.

Goaltending: Hellebuyck has practically been a one-man show, making his postseason debut after appearing in 67 games and playing an NHL-best 3,966 minutes during the regular season. Mason, projected as the team’s No. 1 goalie after he was signed as a free agent last summer, was limited to 13 games by a pair of concussions and a knee injury; he compiled a GAA of 3.24 and save percentage of .906.

Special teams: Given the team’s offensive depth, it’s no surprise that its power play ranks fifth in the NHL (23.4 percent). Laine leads the league with 20 power-play goals, and Wheeler’s 40 power-play points were second-most in the NHL behind Pittsburgh’s Phil Kessel (42). The penalty kill ranks ninth in the NHL (81.8 percent), a significant upgrade from its 26th-place finish (77.5 percent) last season.