Wild Looks To Keep Home-Streak Going
Trailing 2-0 in its Western Conference Second Round series against the Chicago Blackhawks, the Minnesota Wild returns to Xcel Energy Center in a familiar spot.
The Wild came home in the first round against the Colorado Avalanche down two games as well, although this time around, Minnesota trails a team that isn't young and inexperienced like the Avalanche. Instead, if any team can claim to have "been there and done that," it's the Blackhawks, winners of two Stanley Cups in the past four years.
Minnesota is also down to a team that, going back to last season, has beaten them in six of their past seven playoff games.
"That's part of it and we have to overcome that for sure. I think we played these guys better in the regular season. I said after [Sunday] night that I felt like these last two games were different from last year," Wild coach Mike Yeo said. "I spent a lot of time looking at and going over my notes from last year and looking at stats, and I think that, statistically, it shows that it's been different. I don't feel like we've played our two best games by any means, but I look at puck possession this year compared to last year and I see a big difference. Scoring-chance wise, same thing."
In the first round, the Wild nearly stole Game 1, coughing up a late lead before losing in overtime. A 4-2 loss in Game 2 against the Avalanche was a one-goal game until a late empty-netter.
This round, the Wild has yet to hold a lead. Early goals in each game have kept Minnesota chasing, and each time the Wild have rallied early in the third period to either tie (in Game 1) or make it a one-goal game (in Game 2), Chicago has responded within a couple of shifts, scoring a goal of its own to take back momentum.
The question remains: Can the Wild channel its home dominance in round one into a comeback again in round two?
"I don't see a lot of difference. If we stay with our structure and pick our intensity up, make some better plays and finish our scoring chances, I feel like we can take the series over," Wild defenseman Clayton Stoner said. "There's a lot of belief in this room after coming back against Colorado, and they're a good team, too. They finished No. 1 in the division, so they're a good team."
Where the Wild has seen a marked improvement in the second round has been their willingness to physically exert themselves. Minnesota has outhit Chicago 69-47 through two games, but so far that physical edge hasn't translated into much.
"I think that we can bring more of an edge to our offensive game," Yeo said. "That's one thing for sure, whether it's on the forecheck, whether it's our puck strength and ability to attack the net, or even just putting more pressure and making things more difficult on their goalie, I do think that we can find another edge there."
The Wild was also able to match lines differently in the first round. Chicago is a much deeper team than Colorado, which has presented problems for the Wild. While Patrick Kane and Marian Hossa had standout performances in Game 1, third-line forward Bryan Bickell has five points through two games and has been a thorn in Minnesota's side dating back to last season's playoffs. This time, it's clear matching lines won't work.
Yeo also said Chicago doesn't get the credit it deserves defensively, making life difficult for Wild forwards and for shooters to get the puck through traffic. That is one area the Wild need to improve as they return home for Game 3.
"I'll give those guys a ton of credit. You look at what they've done the last four years," Yeo said. "Night in and night out, this is a team that can hurt you in the way they play offensively, they can hurt you in how they can capitalize on their opportunities, but this is a team that's not easy to play against."
Minnesota won two of three games against the Blackhawks in Saint Paul during the regular season. The Wild will need to do at least that well over the next week to stay in this series.
"Yeah, we've been here before. Right now we just have to focus on the next one. That's all we have to do," Wild forward Charlie Coyle said. "We said that last series too, and we came out and got a win here and everything went well the next game. We've got to come out and prove that and play well."