Minnesota columnist believes Wild improved by adding ‘attitude’

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If you were to draw up a list of the “easiest” series from the 2013 postseason, Chicago’s five-game stroll against Minnesota would probably finish close to the top. To make matters worse for the Wild, some might say the team took a step back by shedding salary this summer, yet the Pioneer Press’ Tim Powers believes that they improved in a bigger picture way.

More specifically, he thinks that the Wild added some edge and attitude via Matt Cooke and Keith Ballard.

Enter Ballard and Cooke. With luck, they’ll growl and prod and, as a result, motivate. Not when things are going well. Not when the Wild have put together a nice streak. But when things are headed south. Because no team can turn a couple of bad bounces into a four-game losing streak as quickly as the mentally fragile Wild.

(Now imagine a low-budget promo video of Cooke and Ballard dramatically removing their sunglasses.)

One can easily question this concept – especially since hit machine Cal Clutterbuck is out of town – but the two players do bring some snarl to the table.

We all know the story Cooke, as the 34-year-old’s past is so checkered that the common refrain is that he’s a changed man. (Perhaps there’s a small group of Wild fans who want the “old” Cooke, then?)

Ballard, 30, isn’t a pushover either. For those who look past his formerly problematic contract and scratches, Ballard showed that he wasn’t shy to throw his body around. That was especially true when it came to his old-school hip checks:

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It’s anyone’s guess if two supporting cast members like Cooke and Ballard will really make that much of a difference, but maybe the team will be “tougher to play against,” as hockey people like to say.

PHT’s second-round playoff predictions, featuring the red-hot Random Thing Picker

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It was a tough first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs for many of the so-called experts of the world.

Upsets included the Predators over the Blackhawks and the Blues over the Wild. The Rangers over the Canadiens was a quasi-upset, too.

Here at PHT, it was a mixed bag. Mike Halford and Cam Tucker each went an impressive 6-2. And so too did the Random Thing Picker, which as its name suggests, picks random things. (And picks them rather well, apparently.)

Of note, the Random Thing Picker and James O’Brien were the only ones to pick the Preds over the ‘Hawks. So congratulations to both robotic lifeforms on that bit of soothsaying.

Rounding out the rest of the first-round results, Adam Gretz and Joey Alfieri went 4-4, while at 3-5, O’Brien and yours truly couldn’t even crack .500. (Stupid Jake Allen.)

On to the second round!

Washington versus Pittsburgh (Stream Capitals-Penguins)

Brough: Capitals in 7
Halford: Penguins in 6
O’Brien: Capitals in 7
Gretz: Capitals in 7
Tucker: Capitals in 6
Alfieri: Capitals in 7
Random Thing Picker: Capitals

New York versus Ottawa (Stream Rangers-Senators)

Brough: Senators in 6
Halford: Senators in 7
O’Brien: Rangers in 7
Gretz: Rangers in 6
Tucker: Rangers in 6
Alfieri: Senators in 6
Random Thing Picker: Senators

St. Louis versus Nashville (Stream Blues-Predators)

Brough: Predators in 6
Halford: Blues in 7
O’Brien: Predators in 6
Gretz: Predators in 6
Tucker: Predators in 7
Alfieri: Predators in 6
Random Thing Picker: Blues

Anaheim versus Edmonton (Stream Ducks-Oilers)

Brough: Ducks in 7
Halford: Ducks in 6
O’Brien: Ducks in 6
Gretz: Oilers in 7
Tucker: Oilers in 6
Alfieri: Ducks in 6
Random Thing Picker: Ducks

Feel free to add your picks below…

Auston Matthews to skip Worlds

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Auston Matthews is going to take some time off.

As such, the 19-year-old star forward won’t be heading overseas to represent the United States in the upcoming World Championship.

You can hardly blame him. Matthews just finished his rookie season in the NHL, playing all 82 games for the Toronto Maple Leafs, plus six more in the playoffs.

Oh, and he also played in the World Cup for Team North America.

Matthews did participate in last year’s Worlds. He had six goals and three assists in 10 games on the way to a fourth-place finish.

Related: Gaudreau, Eichel commit to USA Worlds roster

Blackhawks fire their AHL head coach

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Yesterday, the Chicago Blackhawks fired longtime assistant coach Mike Kitchen.

Today, it was longtime AHL coach Ted Dent who got the ax.

Dent has been the head coach of the Rockford IceHogs the past six seasons, and he was an assistant coach for Chicago’s AHL affiliate the previous five seasons.

“The Chicago Blackhawks thank Ted for all of his contributions throughout his tenure with the organization,” GM Stan Bowman said. “He played a major role in helping a number of players reach the NHL level with the Chicago Blackhawks, many of whom became Stanley Cup champions. We wish Ted and his family the best.”

The IceHogs missed the playoffs this season, finishing last in the AHL’s Central Division with a record of 25-39-12.

Related: A furious Bowman addressed the Blackhawks’ postseason failure

Report: Canucks close to naming Travis Green head coach

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The Vancouver Canucks are reportedly set to announce Travis Green as their next head coach.

According to TSN’s Bob McKenzie, the announcement will be made in the next couple of days.

Green, who played over 1,000 games in the NHL including the playoffs, has been the head coach of the Canucks’ AHL affiliate in Utica the past four seasons. Under his watch, the Comets have played mostly winning hockey in spite of some rather depleted lineups.

Ever since Willie Desjardins was fired at the end of the season, Green has been the leading candidate to take over in Vancouver. The only question, really, was whether he’d be a candidate for another NHL head-coaching vacancy, perhaps with the Florida Panthers.

Assuming no last-minute hiccups, Green will take over a transitioning Canucks team that has finished 28th and 29th overall in its last two seasons, respectively.

“We’re going to be young,” president of hockey ops Trevor Linden said. “Young players make mistakes. There’s going to be some growing pains. We need a coach that understands exactly where we are.”

Related: In farewell to Vancouver, Desjardins defends his approach to young players