The Minnesota Wild is in a familiar, tough spot against the Chicago Blackhawks. For the third straight Stanly Cup Playoffs, Minnesota trails the best-of-seven series after the opening contest. In years prior, the series has shifted back to the State of Hockey with the Wild down 2-0, something the club will look to change.
“Last year we proved that being down 2-0 doesn’t mean the end of you,” Wild Head Coach Mike Yeo said. After going down two games, Minnesota won Games 3 and 4 at Xcel Energy Center.
“We were able to come back, but certainly we are putting a great emphasis on that game tomorrow,” Yeo said. “It’s a much different situation if you can grab a game and go back, as we saw last series."
After a sluggish start in Game 1, allowing three Blackhawks goals, the Wild bounced back in the second with three tallies, but came up short, 4-3. Yeo thought the first period was actually “pretty decent,” but that “pretty decent is not going to cut it” against a talented Chicago club. The Wild just gave the Hawks too many chances, and the home team buried its opportunities.
“I think we’ve got to start on time,” forward Chris Stewart said. “We kind of waded into the game yesterday and they’re a good team and they made us pay.”
The team wants to dictate play with a faster game and put more pressure on the Hawks. Rather than sit back — look for more opportunities to attack.
“Looking at the game again, there are a couple things we can do a little bit more consistently,” Wild Head Coach Mike Yeo said. “I think speed is number one. We only saw it enough in spurts, so picking up the pace of our play, but also the forecheck, pressure, the physicality.
“Once that started to come into play, we started to find our game a little bit more.”
In Game 2, the Wild will look to tighten things up. Minnesota mistakes led to Hawks offense, a trend the team knows can’t continue if it’s going to even up the series before returning home.
“We showed good resiliency coming back, but at the end of the day you need 60 minutes to win in this game,” Stewart said. “The more we can get in on the forecheck and force turnovers and get it back, it should benefit us.
“We want to grind it down in their D-zone and make them work for their chances.”
The club will be without Justin Fontaine, who suffered a lower body injury and left during the second period. He didn’t return and was evaluated by team doctors today. Wild Head Coach Mike Yeo doesn’t have a timetable for his return, saying only it could be anywhere from a day-to-day to a week or longer situation.
Minnesota has a number of options to replace on the fourth line, but, again, speed will be something that Yeo wants in the lineup. The team has a handful of players available, but the team is losing a penalty killer in Fontaine. Erik Haula and Ryan Carter are yet to play in the postseason, while Jordan Schroeder and Sean Bergenheim are also available.
Last year, Haula torched the Hawks for five points (3-2=5) in the six game series.
“We’ve seen a guy like (Haula) has had success against these guys in the past,” Yeo said. “Last year I thought he had a real strong playoffs against them.”
Schroeder skated in three games against the Hawks during the regular season. Though he went pointless, he did register 12 shots on goal, including seven on Jan. 8 in his second game with Minnesota.
“Looking at the games this year, I think (Schroeder) speed was a factor every time he played against them,” Yeo said.
If the club goes with a little more grit, Carter is looking for his first postseason game with Minnesota.
“Obviously we have a veteran guy in Ryan Carter, he hasn’t come in to play yet,” Yeo said. “But he’s a good penalty killer and a good grinding type player.”
The opening salvo of “Chelsea Dagger” by the Fratellis is instantly recognizable; an earworm of a tune that can echo inside the listener’s head for hours after the needle is pulled from the record. While it’s one of the catchiest hooks in music, it is a switchblade to the ears of visiting hockey teams at Chicago’s United Center. The Dagger is the Blackhawks’ goal song and the 20,000 plus fans in the arena jovially bounce along with the onomatopoeia crescendo when the team scores.
In the last two Stanley Cup Playoffs, the Minnesota Wild has heard the tune 23 times in the Windy City, as the Hawks have won all six contests at the United Center on its way to eliminating the Wild in both meetings.
It’s been a long wait — and the end is still another day away.
The Wild and Blackhawks will get underway tomorrow at 8:30 p.m. State of Hockey time. But puck drop feels like it's inching closer at the pace of a child learning to walk for the first time; minor steps forward seem like huge accomplishments.
“Well, at least we get to travel there today,” Wild Head Coach Mike Yeo quipped to open his press conference Thursday.
One of the first drills during today’s Minnesota Wild practice at Xcel Energy Center was geared towards the team’s defensemen. A pair forwards swung low at the blue line, picking up speed like a racecar coming around the curve, and attacked two D-men. The blueliners had to backpedal hard, pumping their legs like pistons, in order to maintain the appropriate gap between the hard-charging forwards.
For the Wild D-corps, minding the gap will be one of the many keys to overcoming its Stanly Cup Playoffs nemesis, a skilled and speedy Chicago Blackhawks team. Minnesota doesn’t want to get into an up-and-down firewagon game with the Hawks.
So we meet again.
For the third consecutive Stanley Cup Playoffs, the Minnesota Wild faces Central Division foe the Chicago Blackhawks. Of course, the Wild looks to alter the outcome this go-round, as the Hawks have eliminated Minnesota from contention the past two postseasons.
For the second time in as many years, the Wild meets the Hawks in Round 2. Last season, Minnesota didn’t have much time to prep for Chicago after defeating the Colorado Avalanche in Game 7 of the first round.
For the first time in franchise history, the Minnesota Wild will have an opportunity to advance in the Stanley Cup Playoffs in six games. After a, 4-1, Game 5 bounce back performance, the Wild looks to close out its Round 1 series against the St. Louis Blues on home ice tomorrow.
“We know what the opportunity is,” Wild Head Coach Mike Yeo said. “We know what’s at stake here. Far more important for us is that we’re not getting caught up in that. We need to be ready to play a great game.”
Thus far, it’s been difficult to get a pulse on the series. The teams have traded wins in all five games. Yesterday was the first game in which the team that scored first lost the contest. Home ice has been as effective as a rudderless boat at steering outcomes. Momentum between games has carried over like a led balloon.
The longer a Stanley Cup Playoffs series goes, the tenser things get. There’s less time to react and no room for error. So, with the series even, two games apiece, the Minnesota Wild and St. Louis Blues are expecting the vice grip to be clamped down even tighter in Game 5.
Of course, Minnesota wants to bounce back from its Game 4 effort, a 6-1 loss on home ice on Wednesday. After winning the third game of the series, the Wild didn’t have a good start and the Blues took advantage, scoring three times in the opening period.
The lowest point of the Minnesota Wild’s season came on Jan. 13, a 7-2 drubbing to the Pittsburgh Penguins. It was the team’s sixth consecutive loss and it seemed like things were coming off the rails. The next day, the Wild acquired goaltender Devan Dubnyk from the Arizona Coyotes and the team took off like a bullet train, chugging its way into the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
So, following a 6-1 loss in Game 5 of its opening round series against the St. Louis Blues, the club has some perspective on what it takes to turn things around in a hurry.
“At the point in January, if we could’ve said, ‘Hey, we’ll be in the first round tied 2-2,’ I think we would’ve taken it,” defenseman Ryan Suter said. “Last night after the game a lot of negative thoughts go through your mind and then today you wake up and the series is tied 2-2 and now it’s a best of three.”
Did you catch yesterday’s overtime classic between the Chicago Blackhawks and Nashville Predators that went well into the night? How about the Canadian blood feud going on North of the Border between the Calgary Flames and Vancouver Canucks?
Minnesota Wild Head Coach Mike Yeo hasn’t caught much of the rest of the happenings around the National Hockey League during the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Just like Sweet Brown, the bench boss ain’t got time for that.
Because fighting in hockey is legal, sometimes encouraged, often the sport’s toughness is equated with a player’s ability to throw a punch. However, through the first three games of its first round Stanley Cup Playoffs series against the St. Louis Blues, the Minnesota Wild is showing its grit between whistles.
“There’s different kinds of toughness,” defenseman Ryan Suter said. “I think we have good team toughness. Blocking a shot, it takes a tough guy to do that. Taking a hit to make a play, it takes a tough guy to do that stuff.”
It’s the hard plays, where an individual sacrifices his body for the good of the team, that add up to a series victory.