Minnesota’s first two lines will actually be impressive this season

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After the busy offseason the Minnesota Wild have had there’s something interesting happening in the state of hockey. Fans are reinvigorated and excited for the new year now that the team has more than one offensive weapon to play with. The additions of Dany Heatley and Devin Setoguchi give the Wild a pair of guys whose job is to score lots of goals. The Wild haven’t had that sort of thing since Marian Gaborik’s healthy days.

Now with training camp rolling around in just a couple weeks, the anticipation is building and Wild fans are curious as to how new coach Mike Yeo is going to arrange things on his scoring lines. With Heatley and Setoguchi joining guys like Mikko Koivu, Pierre-Marc Bouchard, Matt Cullen, and Guillaume Latendresse things could get interesting for the Wild.

Michael Russo of the Star Tribune had a chance to sit down with Yeo and talk about how he’s going to run things (video) and we’re actually excited ourselves to see how his plans work out. Yeo tells Russo that he’s got his top two lines set to go to start training camp and they shake out very interestingly.

Yeo’s top two lines will be:

  1. Devin Setoguchi – Mikko Koivu – Dany Heatley
  2. Guillaume Latendresse – Matt Cullen – Pierre-Marc Bouchard

That top line gives team captain and top centerman Koivu a pair of linemates who already know each other well from San Jose. Having Koivu get to work with them will be the real test for his abilities. Let’s face facts, going from working with guys like Bouchard and Latendresse to the likes of Heatley is a massive change. Heatley has 40 to 50-goal ability and Setoguchi will get big time minutes to see if he can be a 30-goal guy. Koivu will need to be the set-up man on this line and he’s got great talent, but whether or not he can keep the other two guys moving and motivated remains to be seen.

For the Wild’s second line, they’re still keeping guys together from last year’s squad and they’ll be hoping that Latendresse can stay healthy and go back to playing how he did when he arrived in a trade with Montreal. If he can do that, the Wild have a potential 30-goal guy on the second line. Cullen is a solid center and a guy that will play hard but he has never really been asked to be an offensive styled player before in his career. Bouchard is the wild card here as he’s shown he’s got playmaking ability in the past and can score 20+ goals too. His bugaboo has always been his health and everyone is hoping he can steer clear of any further concussions.

The potential here for Minnesota is sky high with these two lines and with how badly Wild fans are looking for excitement from their team, we’re hoping it works out. We know they can get great goaltending from Niklas Backstrom but the offense has always been a sore point. Wild GM Chuck Fletcher has made the moves to help them be better offensively, now they have to show it.

Video: Johansen, Fisher join in Predators’ conference title celebration

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After reaching their first ever Western Conference Final, the Nashville Predators topped that in a big way, advancing to the Stanley Cup Final for the first time in franchise history.

There were a lot of firsts and rarities along the way.

In ousting the Anaheim Ducks with a 6-3 victory in Game 6, GM David Poile’s team advanced to the championship round for the first time in his lengthy time as an executive.

Peter Laviolette also became the fourth coach in NHL history to bring three different teams to a Stanley Cup Final. The Predators are also the first 16th seed to make it this far.

Yep, that’s a long list of milestones (and not a comprehensive one). And, to think, the Predators haven’t even been on the brink of elimination during the postseason yet.

It’s special stuff, so don’t be surprised by the boisterous celebration you can see in the video above this post’s headline.

P.K. Subban: No city in the NHL ‘has anything on Nashville’

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If there’s one thing we can agree upon about the Stanley Cup Playoffs, it’s that these months have really cemented just how hockey-mad Nashville has become for its Predators.

(Yes, you can call it “Smashville” if you’d like.)

The scene at Bridgestone Arena was as boisterous as ever in the Predators’ 6-3 Game 6 win against the Anaheim Ducks, with legions of fans packing and surrounding the building.

Sights like these have becoming resoundingly normal for a hockey market that was once questioned by media and other fan bases:

Yeah, wow.

As the Predators advanced to their first-ever Stanley Cup Final, plenty of people were making jokes at the expense of the Montreal Canadiens for trading P.K. Subban. Of course, Subban wouldn’t take a shot at the Habs during such a great moment, but his praise for puck-nutty Predators fans says a lot in itself.

“I played in an A+ market my whole career,” Subban said, via Jeremy K. Gover of the Nashville Predators Radio Network. “There’s not a city in the league that has anything on Nashville.”

Whether their opponent is the Pittsburgh Penguins or Ottawa Senators, we already know that Nashville will begin the Stanley Cup Final on the road. That’s OK … Predators fans might need some time to get their voices back and recover from celebrating, so waiting until Games 3 and 4 might be a blessing in disguise.

Ducks’ Cogliano just doesn’t think Predators were the better team

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The Anaheim Ducks battled their way to Game 6 of the Western Conference Final, but Colton Sissons and the Nashville Predators ended their season on Monday.

The Ducks are processing that disappointment – being just two wins away from a trip to the championship round – and some of their reactions might spark a little controversy.

Specifically, it sounds a bit like Bruce Boudreau believing that his Minnesota Wild were superior to the St. Louis Blues despite falling in that series.

Andrew Cogliano, it must be noted, was spurned by Pekka Rinne on some early chances in Game 6. He likely feels as frustrated as any Ducks player right now.

Sisson’s hat-trick goal, making it 4-3 before two empty-netters cemented the 6-3 finish, was the dagger that finally put the hard-working Ducks down.

One can understand some of those feelings from Anaheim, especially considering the frustration of a) getting over Jonathan Bernier‘s early struggles to make a very real game of this and b) occasionally carrying the play in a dramatic way, including in Game 6.

Still, the Predators got the right combination of great stretches of play from Rinne and strong work from the expected and the unexpected, such as Sissons.

For an aging star like Ryan Getzlaf – a player who produced some of his best work late in the season and during the playoffs – you have to wonder how many chances remain.

Predators eliminate Ducks, reach first Stanley Cup Final in franchise history

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Colton Sissons made a serious argument that the Nashville Predators do, indeed, still have a No. 1 center.

At least, he certainly played that way on Monday, generating a hat trick as the Predators eliminated the Anaheim Ducks via a 6-3 win, taking the series 4-2.

In doing so, the Predators advanced to their first Stanley Cup Final in franchise history.

That 6-3 score is very misleading. While Nashville managed 2-0 and 3-1 leads, there was plenty of drama in this one, as the Ducks did not go down easily. Cam Fowler tied it up 3-3 in the third period, briefly stunning a rowdy crowd in Nashville.

Sissons was up to the task, however, settling down a bouncing puck on an otherwise stupendous Calle Jarnkrok pass to score the game-winner, notching a hat trick in the process. Sissons continues to be an unlikely hero for a Predators team dealing with the absence of Ryan Johansen (not to mention Mike Fisher, Craig Smith, and others).

Two empty-netters inflated the score, and they also sapped drama from the closing moments, which must have been quite the relief considering how much resolve Anaheim showed.

Peter Laviolette distinguishes himself as one of the NHL’s most underrated bench bosses, becoming just the fourth coach in league history to take three different teams to a Stanley Cup Final. He couldn’t win it all with the Philadelphia Flyers, but he does have a ring thanks to his time with the Carolina Hurricanes. Perhaps he’ll take another one this spring?

It’s quite the moment for GM David Poile, too, after trading Shea Weber for P.K. Subban and Seth Jones for Johansen, among other pivotal moves.

The Ducks might wonder what could have been if John Gibson played instead of Jonathan Bernier. Bernier struggled early, allowing two goals on the first three shots he faced and generally having a tough Game 6. Pekka Rinne, meanwhile, maintained his mostly great run in the playoffs; he protected a Predators lead even when the Ducks dominated long stretches of play.

Now the Predators get a nice rest, as the Eastern Conference Final continues with a Game 6 on Tuesday (and possibly a Game 7 on Thursday).

They’ll limp a bit toward that final round, but the Predators seem to be embracing new territory. And sometimes new heroes.