In a do or die Game 4, the Minnesota Wild will do everything in its power against the Chicago Blackhawks to not, well, be eliminated. The not-dying part includes making a number of changes in its line, trying to take the jumper cables to the offenses.
Even at the lowest point of the season after losing six straight games in early January, the Minnesota Wild has been able to blur its vision of the larger picture, like looking into a 3-D Magic Eye image, so smaller details become pronounced.
Down 3-0 to the Chicago Blackhawks and on the edge of elimination in Round 2 of the Stanley Cup Playoffs, the Wild knows what it’s up against. However, the Wild isn’t gazing wide-eyed at the enormity of the hole. Instead, the team’s focus is narrowed solely on a single purpose: Game 4 tomorrow night at Xcel Energy Center.
“We’ve got to focus on tomorrow, that’s plain and simple,” forward Matt Cooke said. “The picture is tomorrow, it’s not any larger than that. Doesn’t matter further than that.”
Minnesota came out of the gate fast against Chicago in Monday’s Game 3. However, when the Wild wasn’t able to get anything past goaltender Corey Crawford, the club began to press.
“I thought we started great last game. We had three or four scoring chances in the first three minutes. It didn’t go in and I think we changed,” Cooke said. “We worry too much about scoring the first goal, and we started to take chances which led to us not playing Minnesota Wild hockey, which then brings in frustration.”
After falling behind late in the first on a Patrick Kane power play tally, the Wild had plenty of chance to even the score. Minnesota fired 22 shots on goal in the final two periods but was unable to crack Crawford. The Blackhawks defense collapsed and helped alleviate second chance opportunities.
“The last two periods we pushed hard and just came up short,” forward Kyle Brodziak said. “That’s why it’s extremely important against a team of that caliber that when you have those opportunities you have to take advantage of them.”
While a majority of the attention has been paid on how the Hawks have handled the Wild, the club believes it has better. Minnesota wants to make better decisions with pucks when on the attack, especially in dangerous areas around the blue lines. Forward Zach Parise doesn’t think the team needs to change its system, just execute on its opportunities.
“I don’t think that’s the solution,” Parise said about making changes. “It’s about being better in different areas and doing a little more in the offensive zone and try to break through.”
The Wild can’t try to press the situation against the Hawks, who have showed its ability as counter-punching specialists.
“When we weren’t grabbing the lead in the second-half of the first period, that’s when we started to turn pucks over at the offensive blue line as opposed to continuing to get puck behind their defensemen,” Wild Head Coach Mike Yeo said.
“I think that we started to get impatient that we didn’t grab the lead even though we had a great start. That’s counter-productive to creating offense and it’s counter productive to being successful against a team that counters as well as they do.”
Patience is a virtue against Chicago and the Wild has been a model in perseverance all season.
“It’s about going out tomorrow and winning that first period. And if it’s tied after the first, you win the second. We all want to get that goal and make that difference. But be patient and let it come to us,” Parise said. “That’ll help us. Not try and win the game in the first 10 minutes and not try to erase a 3-0 deficit in the first 10 minutes. Win shift and win periods. Hopefully that will add up to winning games.”
Keeping things in focus is something the club has done all season. So, despite being in a hole that looms like the Grand Canyon, the club is keeping things in perspective.
“You don’t want to look at the big picture at this time right now,” Brodziak said. “It’s important for us to come to the rink tomorrow to try to win one hockey game. When you look at the big picture it might seem a little daunting, but I think the only way to go about it is take it one game at a time. Tomorrow night’s the first game, we’ve got to come out with our best and try and get a win and go from there after.”
It’s no secret, after a pair of losses in the Windy City the Minnesota Wild will have to play better in Game 3 if it’s going to get back into its second round series against the Chicago Blackhawks.
In a 4-1 loss on Sunday, the Wild was careless with the puck, which led to odd-man opportunities for the Blackhawks. Minnesota knows that it has to be more meticulous with plays coming out of the defensive zone and at the offensive zone blue line.
Heading into the Second Round series with the Blackhawks, the Wild had a new hope in this year’s installment of the matchup.
The club felt their alliance was stronger than in years past, as did many around them, strong enough to make a real move against Chicago. The anticipation was building to Death Star proportions.
But in Games 1 and 2 of the series, when the puck finally dropped, Chicago — led by a dark-helmeted Corey Crawford in goal — put the Wild in an extremely familiar position: down 2-0 in the series as it shifts back to the State of Hockey.
The Minnesota Wild hasn’t lost back-to-back games in regulation since it acquired Devan Dubnyk on Jan. 14. Tonight, the club looks to do something it never has: win a playoff game at the United Center. The Wild will try to split the series in Game 2 against the Chicago Blackhawks in Round 2 of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
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.