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.
The Minnesota Wild knows the atmosphere inside Xcel Energy Center will be electric as its first round Stanley Cup Playoff series against the St. Louis Blues moves to the State of Hockey.
Tied 1-1 after opening the series in St. Louis, the team that has gotten on the board first in each game has gone on to win the contest. With the vitality of the home crowd, the Wild wants to get off to another good start and get the home fans engaged early.
When he took a hot lap prior to puck drop in Game 3 in the first round of last year’s Stanley Cup Playoffs, Charlie Coyle already had chills.
With the lights low and the crowd crazed with a fever that only got stronger as the night wore on, the atmosphere was unparalleled — and that was before the National Anthem. Undoubtedly, Xcel Energy Center lived up to its name.
However, a seven-game Stanley Cup Playoffs series between teams can be as strategic as a match between Bobby Fischer and Boris Spassky.
“We’re trying to do the same exact thing to them that they’re trying to do to us,” Minnesota Wild defenseman Jordan Leopold said. “It’s just a matter of the chess match and playing percentage hockey and playing the odds. ”
Yesterday, the Wild captured the first piece in its opening-round series against the St. Louis Blues, 4-2, at Scottrade Center. The club executed its game plan and bottled up the Blues, allowing only 21 shots on goaltender Devan Dubnyk.