A devastating loss in Game 1. A joyful victory in Game 3.
The Wild has experienced the highs and lows of playoff hockey early in its series with the Colorado Avalanche, so coach Mike Yeo did his best before Wednesday’s practice to even emotions before Thursday’s crucial meeting.
“Listen up,” the Wild coach said as players huddled around him. “Game 3 is over. Let’s have a good, structured practice.”
With a victory the Wild can even the best-of-seven series and turn it into a best-of-three. A loss, and the Avalanche can close things out at home Saturday night.
The Wild dominated virtually every facet of Monday’s game and won it on Mikael Granlund’s overtime goal and Darcy Kuemper’s shutout. The Wild is well aware how desperate the Avalanche will be Thursday to respond.
“It’s not like we’re ahead in the series here,” Yeo said. “We’re down, and I think we recognize that they’re going to come in with a real strong effort. I think that they recognize the importance of the next game. … And I think we should, too.
“We would love the opportunity to go back to Colorado with some momentum, we’d love the opportunity to go back to Colorado and hopefully they’re feeling a bit of pressure.”
In last year’s playoffs, the Wild, down 2-0 in its series against the Chicago Blackhawks, also dominated Game 3 and also needed an overtime goal by Jason Zucker to win it. But in Game 4, the Wild erased all the good vibes by going 0-for-6 on power plays and losing 3-0. The team returned to Chicago and was abruptly blown out in Game 5 and eliminated.
“Last year, we got too high on ourselves after the overtime win and we came out flat,” defenseman Ryan Suter said. “For us, the main focus this year is to stay levelheaded and go into this game the way we did in Game 3.”
Wild captain Mikko Koivu doesn’t want to think about last year’s Game 4.
“We have to recognize what we did right in Game 3, the way we started it, the way we went all 60-plus minutes,” Koivu said. “You never know what to expect. We can’t know what’s going to happen on the first shift, what’s going to happen in the first five minutes, the first period. We’ve got to live in the moment more than anything right now.
“We’re still down 2-1, so we have to be desperate. I think we know how we played, how we got that success in that game.”
Even though Semyon Varlamov turned away the first 45 shots he saw, the Wild dominated Game 3. It did so by taking care of the puck and getting pucks deep into Colorado’s zone, then putting immense pressure on the Avalanche defensemen — a group that was short by one because of Matt Cooke’s knee-on-knee hit that injured Tyson Barrie.
The effect of that wear and tear might have come to the forefront in overtime. On the forecheck, the Wild took advantage of defense partners Jan Hejda and Erik Johnson, who both looked gassed, before Granlund scored.
“You can always tell by looking at a guy’s face if he’s got more left. That’s why when guys look at me, I try not to breathe so it doesn’t look like I’m tired,” Suter said, laughing.
Added right winger Justin Fontaine, “You could see by chipping it behind them, making them retreat, we’re playing a lot behind them and you could tell they got a little tired.”
Yeo said it’s imperative Thursday to dictate play right off the hop and “not just sit there and see what they’re going to bring.”
Center Kyle Brodziak watched Monday’s game from the press box with the Wild’s other scratches and injured players. He said “our jaws all hit the floor” when Granlund scored.
“It’s crucial to come out early and re-establish the momentum that we started to build last game,” said Brodziak, who will be back in the lineup Thursday. “Just watching from up top, you could feel the whole game; we played a very strong, complete, in-control game. Everybody needs to be ready right from the start. If we play the way we can play, it becomes a little bit demoralizing [for the opponent].
“That’s why [Thursday] is especially important.”