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The Minnesota Wild are advancing to the second round to meet the Chicago Blackhawks thanks to Zach Parise’s grit and talent and Devan Dubnyk’s goaltending. The contrasts told the story. St. Louis was thought to have the edge in toughness and physicality. While that was true, what St. Louis lacked was a goalie, mental toughness and Zach Parise’s veteran leadership.

When Paul Stastny drew a Nino Niederreiter interference penalty 11:14 into the first period, Zach Parise went to work, scoring this shorthanded goal:

There’s no way an NHL goalie should give up a goal like that. Period. That isn’t the type of goaltending the Wild got from Devan Dubnyk.

Dubnyk was the difference maker for the Wild since Wild GM acquired him on January 14. Dubnyk had a tough night in Game 4, eventually getting pulled. Dubnyk’s mental toughness, though, led to a resurgence in Games 5 and 6. In those games, Dubnyk stopped 66 of 68 St. Louis shots on goal. That included T.J. Oshie’s’ goal with 4 seconds left in the second period. During the second intermission, Wild nation worried if that fluke goal would ignite a St. Louis rally in the third. Those fears were eliminated 1:01 into the third period, with Parise again doing the eliminating on this rush:

The Wild’s mental toughness and teamwork pulled them through yesterday’s game and last week’s series. After Dubnyk’s tough night in Game 4, he quickly put the game behind him. The result was back-to-back sterling performances where his save percentage skyrocketed to 97% for those games.

The Wild’s centers were subtle difference makers, too. Captain Mikko Koivu led the way with gritty, smart 2-way play, something St. Louis Coach (at least for a few more hours) Ken Hitchcock wishes he would’ve had. Mikael Granlund faded offensively from time to time only to reappear with a vengeance, like he did on Parise’s second goal. Charlie Coyle’s physicality, especially in the defensive zone, never let St. Louis Captain David Backes get his game going.

Justin Fontaine’s goal ended St. Louis goalie Jake Allen’s night. Brian Engblom’s interview of St. Louis Coach Hitchcock might’ve sealed Hitchcock’s termination:

That’s gotta sting. Less than a minute after Hitchcock told the reporter that he didn’t think about pulling goalie Jake Allen after Parise’s shorthanded goal, Hitchcock pulled Allen after he let in another soft goal, this one from Justin Fontaine.

The story of this series was that a) Minnesota’s stars played like stars, b) Minnesota’s depth wore St. Louis’ physical players down and c) Devan Dubnyk, though this was his first playoff hockey, played with veteran guile.

Chicago has eliminated the Wild the last two seasons, with the Wild getting more competitive each year. This year, Chicago is dealing with goaltending problems. That’s why I’m picking the Wild to eliminate Chicago in 6 games.

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