Fresh off its 2-1 overtime loss last night in Chicago, the Wild assembled at Xcel Energy Center today after flying back home following the game. With two off-days before Game 2 Friday and the team having been in a playoff grind lately, the short flight between here and Chicago gave the opportunity for the team to come home, sleep in their own beds, use their own facilities, etc.
The Wild didn’t practice today, but most the players came down for meetings or treatment. Scratches Nate Prosser, Brett Clark and Justin Falk were on the ice today with goalie Darcy Kuemper, who was recalled from AHL Houston.
Niklas Backstrom, who was injured in warmups last night, was down at the rink getting looked at today. Coach Mike Yeo said he is day-to-day with a lower-body injury. But the way Backstrom skated off yesterday, I think the assumption now is Harding will start Game 2 with Kuemper backing him up.
Jason Pominville continues to be day-to-day and, like I said, was not on the ice with last night’s scratches. Obviously a lot of guys looked to be banged up last night. Matt Cullen seemed to aggravate his injury. Clayton Stoner only played a few shifts in the first and 8 minutes in the game after getting hit hard by Andrew Shaw. Several guys, like Jared Spurgeon, Marco Scandella and Ryan Suter, blocked some shots from close-range, so I’m sure they’re smarting.
But as far as Yeo knows now, the guys that played in Game 1 should be ready for Game 2. We will see at Thursday’s practice before the team returns to Chicago.
Harding says he is feeling good today and if need be, he can start Friday. He didn’t see Backstrom get injured in warmups.
Mikko came and said, ‘Hards, get in there,’” Harding said. “I went in and finished warmup, and I took the end shots, and I thought that somebody would tell me if I wasn’t playing so I just prepared like I was playing.”
He left the ice with three or four minutes left like the starter would. He say in his stall and there was no sign of Backstrom.
“I just kind of took it as I’m playing until somebody comes and tells me I’m not,” Harding said.
Harding has gotten an outpouring of support due to his multiple sclerosis. Michael J. Fox tweeted about him last night. Same with former teammate Eric Nystrom. Jonathan Toews told the Chicago press today that his performance last night was “nothing short of amazing.”
As you know, Harding has made it clear he wants to be treated normally, that he’s just one player on the roster, and doesn’t want to make this about MS.
“I have to take care of my business, and there’s a lot of time in the summer to get caught up on all that stuff,” he said.
Yesterday late in warmups, Zach Parise skated up to Harding along the red line and gave him a few words of support and a tap with his stick.
Parise said he basically told him it was his time.
“He’s a leader on this team,” Harding said. “He helps guys out when they need it, and he just gave me a little bit of a boost, and I really appreciated it. I thanked him after the game.”
Lot of questions about the Wild’s backup situation if an injury arose to Harding or he had to be pulled. Basically, it can only be a player on your roster, so since the Wild didn’t have Kuemper there, it would have had to be a position player.
On last night’s game, Yeo said, “One thing I thought that we did well is we played a good structured game. But for me one key is take that structure and to add a physical element to it. We definitely need to bring a nastiness to our game. There were situations where we could have done that. The flip side is you have to make sure against a team like that, you start running around and take yourself out of position, they’ll gladly take a hit to make a play to score a goal. But that’s one area we can improve as a team is bringing that physical element within the structure of our game.
“We have to make sure that we’re making their D pay a price. We have to make sure we’re getting pucks behind them and I thought our forecheck wasn’t enough a factor in the game for us. A lot of that for me was our entries coming through neutral zone. We turned a few pucks over. Especially early in the game, we have to do a better job of setting the tone.”
On a power play that doesn’t include Charlie Coyle on the first unit, Yeo said Kyle Brodziak has “been there a lot more and we've had a lot of success when he has been there. So that's what it comes down to. He's also another faceoff guy.” (in other words if Mikko Koivu’s booted from the circle).
On the power play that went 0 for 4, Yeo said, “We just sat down and watched it again and broke it down and we're planning on sitting down with the guys now as well. For me, it's sort of the mentality we brought. I thought that we were a little too slow and a little too passive against a team that plays tight, they play to the inside, so if you're not aggressive and ready to attack in certain situations than it's pretty easy for them to keep you to the outside.”
Yeo definitely got defensive about questions about the lack of offensive chances by Parise, Koivu and Coyle against Toews’ line:
“The challenge is, now what if we score the overtime winner? What's the story today? Are they saying what a great job that our top line did and how their top line needs to find more, because 5-on-5 they didn't have much either. And that's one important thing to remember. The difference in the game was we scored one 5-on-5 goal, and they scored one 5-on-5 goal, and they got one power play [goal] and we didn't.”
Still, the Blackhawks have a lot more weapons. I’ll just plainly say it, no chance the Wild wins the series if the top line doesn’t find a way to get more scoring chances.
“Right,” Yeo said. “But at the same time, we also need them to play defensively the same way they did. And this is kind of what we talked about last night. We have to continue to have the same defensive focus and game plan but if we go out there and we just try to outscore those guys shift after shift than they can hurt you to.
So it's building within our game and that has to be the base of it, but now we've got to piece by piece get a little bit better. And there are areas that we can get better -- in particular in the offensive zone. We weren't there enough and we didn't stay there long enough when we were there. This time of year, getting pucks through to the net, creating those scrums, that's how a good majority of those goals are scored.”
Game 2 is crucial.
“Well there's no question there's a big difference between being 1-1 and down 2-0,” Yeo said. “But having said that, we have to make sure we approach it with the right mindset. We have to go in with desperation for sure, but our goal is to get the split and that's what we're focused on.
I'll update this with some more Parise stuff after I transcribe.
I will be on KFAN at 5:20 with Dan Barriero and on KFAN Thursday morning from 9:15-11 a.m. with Paul Allen.
CHICAGO STUFF TODAY, courtesy of my friend, Robert Tychkowski of the Edmonton Sun
on Suter playing 41 minutes
“He’s a tremendous defenceman. There aren’t many guys around who can do that. We want to force him to make as many tough plays as possible, try and wear him down, even though that’s very tough. We have enough forwards to keep him busy. If we keep playing our game eventually we’ll eventually break through him.”
on Minnesota shutting things down, protecting Harding.
“We know they’re doing a great job trying to block as many shots as possible, but if our game is working we’re going to fine.”
on Wild style
“That’s how they’ve played us all season. We kind of expected that in Game 1 and it’s not going to change. It’s up to us to keep being as tough as we can on their goaltender, get more second efforts and more traffic. We have to keep wearing them down as much as we can.
“We like to think of ourselves as an offensive team that can score in a lot of different ways.
“It’s nothing short of amazing. I have a lot of respect for a guy like that... I read his quotes about not wanting any sympathy, he’s going to keep working, keep playing. You have to respect an opponent like that, especially when he’s going through something like that. Seeing the way he played, the stops he made was pretty cool. We know he’s stepping into that spot light an assuming that responsibility, which isn’t an easy thing to do... but what we want to do as a team is be tougher on their goaltender. We need to do that.”
“That’s a lot to do with their coaching staff over there and the way they play the game, well disciplined, good in all areas. There’s not going to be too many easy games or easy opportunities to score. But we feel comfortable playing that style of game. We’ve propven we can be successful playing that way.”
Playing through adversity like Harding is:
“It seems commonplace in today’s game, especially hockey, to play through injuries and different situations. You have to tip your hat to what Josh is going through on their side. It’s pretty amazing that he’s able to play at the level he does, it’s an inspiration for a lot of people. My personal story would probably be Duncan Keith in the playoffs in 2010. I don’t even know if he missed a shift, maybe one or two, after he lost nine teeth. That’s one thing that was pretty impressive to me.”
“Sometimes when you have bumps and bruises or minor injuries you look to the guy next to you that is dealing with something much worse and it makes it a little easier.”
No mullet for him, just Saad and Kane
“In 2010 Kaner and I got the mullets originally but I backed out the day before the first game. I didn’t want to deal with my mom and dad giving me heck after every game, telling me I look like an idiot. We’ll leave that up to those two.”
“It was unbelievable. During the game we noticed he was out there quite a bit. Then we saw the sheet after the game and he had 41 minutes. It was unbelievable. I remember Dunc and I played 30 minutes at the end of overtime and it felt like a lot. 41 is pretty crazy.”
On the Oduya pass off the glass to set up the OT winner: “I think that was one of the best indirect passes you’ll ever see. I think Johhny saw the play unfolding and meant to do that. It turned out to be a special pass.”
Fighting through Minnesota’s style: “I expected a tight series, low scoring games. Minnesota has always defending the front of their net extremely well. The clean looks through the middle of the ice in their end are going to be hard to find.
“If we want to play a pretty game into that type of traffic it’s going to lead to them having some success. We have to play an uglier game.”