Is this the year it all comes together for Minnesota?

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When the Wild signed forward Zach Parise and defenseman Ryan Suter to matching 13-year, $98 million contracts, it was a statement that Minnesota expected to make a serious run at the Stanley Cup in the near future.

In their first year together they ended Minnesota’s four-season long playoff drought. In the Wild’s second campaign of the Praise/Suter era, they won their first playoff series since 2003. In both postseason runs though, they were eliminated by Chicago and if the Wild are to take another step forward this year, they will have to finally get the better of the Blackhawks in their upcoming series.

The biggest change this time around is goaltender Devan Dubnyk. Before acquiring him from Arizona, the Wild seemed to be on their way to having a disappointing campaign. Minnesota had lost six straight games and had given up seven goals twice in that span. From Jan. 15 onward, Minnesota posted a 28-9-3 record with Dubnyk starting in almost every contest.

Dubnyk earned a 1.78 GAA and .936 save percentage in 39 regular season games with Minnesota, which led to him getting a Vezina Trophy nomination. Although the Blues had some success against him in the first round, they couldn’t beat him consistently and that was a big part of their downfall. Contrast that stability in net with what Minnesota experienced in the 2014 playoffs when goaltending injuries were a big part of the story.

Of course, it’s not just about him. Zach Parise, Mikael Granlund, Nino Niederreiter, and Jason Pominville all had a strong series against St. Louis. The Wild will certainly need that kind of offensive depth going forward because there’s one thing they should be painfully aware of at this point: the Blackhawks are an immensely talented team and it takes everyone chipping in to beat them.

Wild made the Blues ‘crack’ with their checking

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It may not be particularly pretty to watch, but boy has it been effective for the Minnesota Wild.

“They checked us really hard and they got us to crack,” is how St. Louis coach Ken Hitchcock put it after last night’s 3-0 Minnesota victory, one that saw the Wild limit the Blues to 10 shots through the first 40 minutes, and just 17 overall.

That left Wild goalie Devan Dubnyk with little to do, other than watch in awe as his teammates suffocated their opponents.

“We play like that, I don’t think there’s one team that can avoid turning the puck over,” Dubnyk said. “Every time a pass is made, our guy’s there. … Every single line, every pairing was on top of the puck. … I’ve seen some pretty incredible performances here at home by us, and that ranks right up there with it.”

We have to be honest — it’s hard to find a real glaring weakness on this Wild team. The forward group is deep, with a good mix of speed, size and talent; the defense is anchored by Ryan Suter, with the emergence of Matt Dumba allowing it to be less reliant on its top four; and, of course, there’s Dubnyk in goal.

Game 4 goes Wednesday in St. Paul. The Wild lead the Blues, 2-1.

Related: Blues need more — much more — from Backes, Stastny and Oshie

PHT’s awards picks for 2014-15

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Just a brief awards post on this busy day. Halford and I each gave our top picks. Feel free to add your two bits in the comments section.

Hart Trophy

Brough: Carey Price. Nobody was more important to their team than this guy. If not for Price, the Habs may not have made the playoffs. I did strongly consider Alex Ovechkin, given he had 10 more goals than anyone else. If Caps fans are mad at me for choosing otherwise, perhaps they can take solace in the fact I didn’t really consider Sidney Crosby at all.

Halford: Carey Price. I also strongly considered Ovechkin, who was the only skater to break the 50-goal mark. But Price was the only goalie with a GAA under 2.00 and save percentage over .930, and on a Montreal team that finished 20th in offense (2.61 goals per game), Price was the more valuable player.

Norris Trophy

Brough: Erik Karlsson. I don’t apologize for picking the defenseman with the most points. It’s not the only factor I considered (obviously), but the ability to move the puck and create offense from the back end is vitally important, and nobody does it better than Karlsson.

Halford: Drew Doughty. No d-man logged more total ice time this season. Not even Ryan Suter. The Kings may have missed the playoffs, but it wasn’t because of Doughty. He’s the best two-way defenseman in the world.

Calder Trophy

Brough: Aaron Ekblad. It was extremely hard not to pick Johnny Gaudreau or Mark Stone, but considering Ekblad’s rookie season, compared to the ones by other 18-year-old defensemen throughout the years, was in line with Bobby Orr’s, I’m not going to lose any sleep over my decision.

Halford: Mark Stone. This was the toughest pick by far but, in the end, I couldn’t ignore how well he played over the final half of the year, especially when the Sens went on their tear. Only Ovechkin, Crosby, Jamie Benn and John Tavares scored more points than Stone (44) after Jan. 1.

Jack Adams Award

Brough: Barry Trotz. Did a masterful job convincing the Capitals to buy in and play with more structure. Also handled Ovechkin perfectly, providing constructive criticism while also publicly praising and bonding with his captain and face of the franchise.

Halford: Bob Hartley. The Flames went from 77 to 97 points, snapped a six-year playoff drought and did it with their captain and best player, Mark Giordano, missing the final 21 games of the regular season. Yeah, there was some puck luck and good fortune involved, but Hartley did a remarkable job getting this team to overachieve.

Selke Trophy

Brough: Patrice Bergeron. A tough season for Bruins fans, but having this guy under contract through 2021-22 is a good way to feel better.

Halford: Patrice Bergeron. I considered some extremely talented guys — Jonathan Toews, Anze Kopitar, Pavel Datsyuk — for the Selke, but never thought about giving the first-place vote to anybody but Bergeron. Kinda says it all.

Vezina Trophy

Brough. Carey Price. Played the fourth-most minutes among all NHL goalies and nobody had a lower save percentage than his .933 mark. Ultimately, this wasn’t a tough decision, despite some excellent seasons from a handful of other goalies.

Halford: Carey Price. He’s going to win in his first year as a finalist, an interesting factoid in that it reminds you Carey Price has never been a Vezina finalist before, let alone won one.

Lady Byng Trophy

Brough: Sean Monahan. Took just six minor penalties all season, to go with 31 goals. There were actually a few candidates for this award on the ultra-disciplined Flames.

Halford: Jiri Hudler. It’s a Calgary love-in! Hudler took one more minor penalty than Monahan did this year, but also finished with the team scoring lead (76 point). That gets him the nod in my book.

Stoner says Wild writers ‘twisted’ his comments about Yeo, Suter

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Pretty busy day on the ol’ war of words front.

This time, it’s former Wild and current Ducks blueliner Clayton Stoner, objecting to how his comments about ex-head coach Mike Yeo — and Yeo giving Ryan Suter so many minutes on defense — were presented by Wild writers, including the Star-Tribune’s Mike Russo.

From Russo:

Today, when asked about that quote, Stoner said he was disappointed and hurt by the way we portrayed his quote, saying, “You guys twisted that story. The story wasn’t anything about the Wild. It had to do with me liking the way the coach coached the back end on our team.”

I asked him to clarify. He said, “Well, as a player, I like to play more minutes, right? So who wouldn’t? It’s just common sense. I said I really liked how the coach here disperses the minutes and has trust in everybody, and that’s all I said. The article was about me, it wasn’t about any other team.

“I didn’t call out [Ryan] Suter and the coach. … I like how they have trust in everybody here. Everybody’s got 18-24 minutes. I like that. It’s great as a player. It shows confidence in me. That’s it. That’s all. It’s refreshing, but am I calling them out? I had a great time here and respect the coach, respect Suter. He’s one of the best players in the league. Why would I call them out?”

At least in what I wrote, not sure where I twisted anything. I wrote it pretty straight.

Stoner’s original comments appeared in the O.C. Register in early January and, in Russo’s defense, appear to be pretty straightforward.

“I didn’t like the way it was run in Minnesota,” Stoner said at the time. “They kind of just give one defenseman [Suter] all the minutes and the rest suffer.

“And I wasn’t happy there. I don’t think the minutes displayed how I was playing. It was more of the just the way things were run there.”

Russo also noted that “the beat writer who wrote the article” — the Register’s Eric Stephens — is currently in Minnesota, and verified the accuracy of Stoner’s quotes.

NHL on NBC: Welcome to Hockey Day in America

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NBC continues its coverage of the 2014-15 campaign with Sunday’s Hockey Day in America tripleheader. Coverage begins at noon on-site from Lake Placid, N.Y. on the 35th anniversary of the 1980 “Miracle on Ice”. In addition to NBC and NBCSN, you can also watch the games online.

Hockey Day in America coverage begins with the Washington Capitals visiting the Philadelphia Flyers (12:30 p.m. ET on NBC) in the fifth and final meeting between the two clubs.

Caps’ forward Niklas Backstrom enters today’s action with two goals and five assists during a four-game point streak. His assist on Matt Niskanen’s goal Saturday afternoon has him in sole possession of the NHL scoring lead.

Washington stretched its win streak to four games yesterday and are now just four points back of the New York Islanders for top spot in the Metropolitan Division.

At this time last month the playoffs seemed like a long shot for the Philadelphia Flyers; however, following Saturday’s 3-2 shootout win over the Nashville Predators, the Flyers trail the Boston Bruins by just four points for the final wild card spot in the Eastern Conference.

The Flyers have won three straight games against the Capitals at home, and five of the past six against them overall.

The Boston Bruins and Chicago Blackhawks follow up the Caps and Flyers in a rematch of the 2013 Stanley Cup final (3:30 p.m. ET on NBC).

The Bruins limp into this afternoon’s contest having failed to pick up two points in six straight games. They’ll also be without David Krejci in Chicago. He was injured in the Bruins 5-1 loss in St. Louis on Friday night.

Chicago had its streak of seven straight games with at least a point snapped Friday in a 4-1 loss to the Colorado Avalanche. The Blackhawks are currently 2-1-3 on their season-high eight-game homestand.

Coverage of today’s action switches over to NBCSN for the Dallas Stars and Minnesota Wild (8 p.m. ET on NBCSN). The Wild won three of the first four meetings between the two clubs. The Stars won the most recent meeting 7-1 on Jan. 3.

Dallas will look to avoid a third straight loss following a disappointing 7-6 overtime loss to the Detroit Red Wings on Saturday. The Stars failed to hang on to a two-goal lead twice during the third period in the loss.

The Wild return home after a 2-1-0 road trip to Western Canada and will look for a third straight win tonight. The game marks the fifth and final meeting between the two clubs this season.

NBC and NBCSN’s Hockey Day In America presentation will include interviews with members of the 1980 U.S. Olympic team as well as several features exploring hockey’s influence and impact in America.

Today’s coverage will include a feature on U.S. sled hockey’s Josh Sweeney, a sit down with Minnesota Wild defenseman Ryan Suter and profile of the U.S. National Team Development program.