If Charlie Coyle plays the way he knows he can play, which is the way he played against the Colorado Avalanche in the first round, he'll be the Minnesota Wild's answer to left wing Bryan Bickell of the Chicago Blackhawks in their Western Conference Second Round series.
The St. Louis Blues didn't have a big, physical, grinding, fast and offensively capable wing in their group of top-six forwards to match the 6-foot-4, 233-pound Bickell in the first round. Bickell eventually wore down the Blues and had two goals and an assist during the final three games of the series, all Chicago wins.
Coyle can match Bickell, especially when he's playing on the first line with Mikko Koivu and Zach Parise. He's 6-3, 221 pounds and he has speed, skill and, now, enough confidence to use his big body to create havoc.
He did that against the Avalanche in the first round and helped the Wild win the series in seven games with three goals and two assists. Coyle will have to be even better if the Wild are going to get past the defending Stanley Cup champions.
"I see him kind of standing up, going eye-to-eye, toe-to-toe with guys a little bit more, engaged in those battles," Wild coach Mike Yeo said of Coyle. "I think he's just kind of finally starting to get the confidence of realizing just how big and strong he is.
"For me, a big part of being physical is just puck strength and a guy who is going to make hard plays, a guy who is going to go to the hard areas. That's what I'm seeing from him. He's playing a hard game consistently."
Coyle said Yeo spoke to him about getting back to playing a physical game toward the end of an East Coast road trip in mid-March. He wasn't playing physical and he wasn't scoring either; he had one goal and one assist in 19 games from Jan. 21-March 20.
However, Coyle returned home after that trip and scored five goals and had 10 points in the next nine games before going without a point in the final three games of the regular season.
"[Yeo] knew I got away from my game a little bit, how I was playing, and he knew I could play better," Coyle said. "He just said, 'Get back to what you're good at, get back to playing physical.' I knew that too, just sometimes when you're not scoring you get away from things instead of focusing on the simple things. I got back to doing that, played physical, used my body, and everything kind of picked up after that."
Coyle said he's at his best when he is playing physical because his physicality drives his overall game.
"I've known that for a while, but sometimes you just stray away from it, I guess," Coyle said. "That's something I need to bring every night. I don't necessarily have to make a big hit, but just be involved physically and that takes care of the rest of my game and I'm engaged."
He was engaged against the Avalanche. He has to be against the Blackhawks too.
"I think he makes a big difference," Parise said. "He's really good at those spins and tight turns and he's tough to knock off the puck. When he can fight off a check and beat a guy to the net it's going to create a lot of scoring chances.
"I think he started playing really well late in the season and he's carried it into the playoffs. He's been really good for us."
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