Have you ever heard of the term "Minnesota Nice"?
It’s a subcategory of Midwestern hospitality that is defined exactly the way it sounds. People from Minnesota are just nicer than everybody else. It’s very well-known around this region of the country, and embraced by just about everybody from in-state.
It’s also completely untrue.
The big identifier here is that Minnesota Nice people will never insult someone in a straightforward fashion. Ever. It doesn’t sound like a bad thing, but I think I’d personally prefer it to their alternative. For example, instead of, "you look fat in those pants," you’ll hear, "maybe you’d look better in a bigger size". Minnesota Nice people can sugarcoat any and every snarky comment that they want to make, and it’s almost impressive how incredible they are at it.
Since this is the self-proclaimed State of Hockey (I’ll actually vouch for that moniker) and I’m a Ducks fan, I’ve heard more than my fair share of times amidst all these outdoor games that have been going on, "it just seems a lot smarter to play one here than in California, doesn’t it?" The only time they will say anything outright nasty directed towards another human being is when they hop onto Interstates 35 or 94 and verbally unleash every bad thought that has built up in their minds over the course of the day from the safety of their own car. Don’t get me wrong, I have some Minnesotan friends who are some of the nicest people you’ll ever meet, but they’re not MINNESOTA Nice.
This leads me to tonight’s opponent, representing the land of Minnesota Passive-Aggressiveness: the Wild.
Keys to the Game: After beating That Team Up the Highway [Ed. Note: Ummmm... Ben, it's called a freeway here. Just trying to be direct. -CK] twice in their last two games, the Ducks need to approach this game like they did against LA. Minnesota has a very talented roster, sporting the likes of Jason Pominville, Nino Niederreiter, Dany Heatley, and of course, Olympians Zach Parise, Ryan Suter, Mikko Koivu (AKA Little Koivu). After spending the first half of the season floating around the cutoff line for playoff-eligible teams, Minnesota has ramped up their game in 2014, posting an 8-3-1 record thus far in the new year.
Tonight’s opposition is hungry to solidify their status as a playoff team, and lately they’ve been playing like it. Even though they’re not so intimidating on paper (currently the only playoff-eligible team in the West with a negative goals for/goals against ratio), Anaheim needs to come out of the locker room ready to rock, or we could very well be seeing a result similar to last week’s Winnipeg game. The Wild have been riding the hot hand of third string goalie Darcy Kuemper lately, but if tonight's Fenwick chart ends up resembling the one from the Jets game, I doubt he’s going to be able to steal another game like Ondrej Pavelec did.
What We Can Learn from this Game: This game doesn’t reflect on Anaheim as heavily as it does the Wild. Minnesota is a team that wants to see past the first round of the playoffs for the first time since 2003, and they employ a coach who’s fighting tooth and nail to keep his job in St. Paul. A win at the Honda Center, this season's toughest venue for an away team to steal two points, would be a big confidence builder for Minnesota.
Quite frankly, there's a lot more at stake in this game for the visitors, so I expect them to come charging out of the gate, and the Ducks need to be prepared for it. More importantly, this could very possibly be a prelude to a first round playoff matchup. As a Ducks fan in the Twin Cities who hasn't seen them play in person since 2006, I want it to happen BADLY.
Fearless Prediction: With the game tied late in the third period, a Wild fan sitting behind the Ducks bench tells Dustin Penner that it looks like he’s finally starting to cut down on the pancakes. Irritated yet motivated by the fan's polite-ish stab, Penner then scores the game-winner on his next shift.
Stay tuned here for updates throughout the day (lineup news, etc.) and start commenting. We'll have a quick stats pack shortly before puck drop for the in-game comments to flow.