Michael Russo has covered the National Hockey League since 1995. He has covered the Minnesota Wild for the Star Tribune since 2005, after 10 years of covering the Florida Panthers for the Sun-Sentinel. He uses “Russo’s Rants” to feed a wide-ranging hockey-centric discussion with readers, and can be heard weekly on KFAN (100.3 FM) radio and seen weekly on Fox Sports North.
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Wild right wing Justin Fontaine will miss Game 2 with what I'm told is a groin injury.
Coach Mike Yeo said it's the type of injury that could be day-to-day or a week or so. Fontaine was being seen by Wild doctors during the Wild's optional practice today after Friday's series-opening 4-3 loss to the Blackhawks.
Yeo said there are several options, but he wouldn't divulge who will play for Fontaine.
Normally, Yeo would put the right-shot Jordan Schroeder in that spot, and he has played well against the Hawks and had one game with seven shots this year against them.
But Yeo also reminded that Erik Haula had a great series against Chicago last year. He hasn't played yet in the postseason as he's been deep in the doghouse after a tough regular season.
If Haula were to play, my guess is Kyle Brodziak would move to right wing. Yeo also said there's Ryan Carter and Sean Bergenheim, but my guess is Yeo will want to put a speedster in the lineup, so I'd think it would be Haula or Schroeder. Haula would be able to play penalty kill for Fontaine. Schroeder is an offensive weapon, but there is no doubt the Wild hasn't been pleased with his play in his own zone.
"It’s been tough for sure, but I’m so full of excitement," Haula said. "It’s hard to describe what it feels like being out and feeling kind of helpless. But I’ve been working hard. If they call upon me, I’m going to give it my all and make sure it’s going to be tough to take me out."
The Wild's looking to respond Sunday. This is the first time it has trailed in a series this postseason and it has fallen behind 2-0 in a series in three of its past four series.
"We still feel fine," Zach Parise said. "We’re not freaking out or anything. … We’re not sitting here thinking, ‘Oh here we go again.’"
The Wild hasn't lost consecutive games in regulation in the Devan Dubnyk era and he responded impressively from two losses in the St. Louis series.
"All year, we’ve done a good job of putting things behind us and moving on – win or loss," Dubnyk said.
The gist of today is the Wild felt the first period was not nearly as bad as a 3-0 deficit would seem to indicate and that the pushback in the second period off a terrific forecheck and more speed has the Blackhawks' attention.
"I know one thing against this team, I think we have their attention probably a little more than we have in the past," Yeo said. "But with that comes maybe a greater sense of preparation on their part going into every game and I think we’ll see that again tomorrow."
"It took us to go down 3-0 and start from scratch and start building," said Chris Stewart, who is still looking for his first goal this postseason. "We know we’re going to get our chances against them. The more we get in their zone and grind them down and make them work 200 feet for their chances and frustrate them will play more into our gameplan.
"They won the game, but they're probably not feeling too well about the pushback we had. We came here to get one and hopefully we get one."
Added rookie defenseman Matt Dumba, "Our first period [Sunday] night will be a lot better than that. I think we’re going to bring a lot more speed to our game. I think that’s going to be a big one and that will play a big role in the game. I think we weren’t up to speed where we wanted to be and we need to pressure them into situations they don’t want to be in."
Yeo said, "Looking at the game again, there are a couple things we can do a little bit more consistently on a little bit more throughout the entire course of the game. I think speed is number one. We only saw it enough in spurts, so picking up the pace of our play, but also the forecheck, pressure, the physicality. Once that started to come into play, we started to find our game a little bit more.
"Our first period, I would say, was actually pretty decent. But pretty decent’s not going to cut it. I think we spent more time in their zone than they spent in ours. We had some shots, we had some moments, we had some opportunities, but I would say the assertiveness of our start and making sure we’re not giving up quality chances that we did early in the game, I think being a little bit more whether it’s aggressive or physical in the puck strength battles, I think that’s something we have to be a little bit more prepared for. Whatever the case is, whether it was rust or whether it was just not being ready from the drop of the puck, we have to make sure that we change that for tomorrow."
On the Blackhawks' rush goals, "They’re a great team, but again I’m not overly concerned about those two plays that developed. I don’t know that there should have been a penalty on the play, but they tried to chip it in and [Brandon Saad] grabs [Ryan] Suter’s stick and kind of slingshots himself past him. That’s an odd play on that one. And on the second one, we got caught in a little bit of a bad gap. That’s something we’re a little bit more prepared for now. But again, maybe the rust, maybe the time off – normally we’re a very strong 1 on 1 team so that’s not a big concern."
On the importance of Game 2, Yeo said, "That’s a good question. I don’t really want to get into what ifs to be honest with you. If you ask me if I want to win that game tomorrow I would say yes I would definitely like to. Being 1-1 would definitely be better than being down 2-0. Last year we proved that being down 2-0 doesn’t mean the end of you. We were able to come back, but certainly we are putting a great emphasis on that game tomorrow. It’s a much different situation if you can grab a game and go back, as we saw last series."
On Thomas Vanek's game, "If you’re talking to him, you hear his comments, our thoughts as well, not to say that this is the type of series where he could be more of a factor but certainly when a player has that type of feeling it leads to a lot more confidence and I think we saw that confidence from him right from the start. He was involved in an awful lot of scoring chances for us last night and he certainly is a guy, if you want to call him an X factor, he’s definitely a guy who can be a difference maker in a series like this."
Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville expects the Wild to push hard Sunday.
"Minnesota’s going to make you deserve everything you get," he said. "They’re not going to give you anything. We’ve got to be ready for a hard game. You’re going to be seeing progression the emotion, the intensity, every game we’re going to be playing. And I would expect the pace to be like that, as well."
Most shocking about the start of Game 1 was just how rusty the Wild's defensemen were. They quickly learned the Blackhawks have a different push the pace rush style than the chip and chase Blues.
“I think their defense and defensive schemes as a group of five defend better than anyone, beating guys one-on-one or getting those situations,” Quenneville said. “You have to take advantage of them but don’t anticipate getting many of them. We cashed in on them. … But getting scoring chances against Minnesota is not easy."
Couple interesting Blackhawks things:
Antoine Vermette won 11 of 14 faceoffs in Game 1, none bigger than the defensive-zone draw that Brad Richards turned into a Patrick Kane goal in seven seconds.
It was like the perfect storm of bad for the Wild just because the way its set faceoff play was being deployed, Jared Spurgeon and Marco Scandella were on their wrong sides.
Vermette shoveled the puck forward toward the Blackhawks blue line for Richards to skate into. Scandella never looked comfortable and took a strange route to Richards and the former Conn Smythe Trophy winner took advantage of the poor gap.
Vermette indicated the shovel ahead was because he noticed that Wild center Mikko Koivu looked to be trying to win the draw to Spurgeon for a one-timer.
“The way the centerman was taking his draw, I gave a look to Ritchie and fortunately enough it worked out,” Vermette said.
Also, prior to Saad’s goal 75 seconds in, Suter (as you read above, Yeo) felt Saad ripped his stick out of his hands. By the time Suter caught it, Saad was behind him before scoring Chicago’s first goal.
Asked if he had a hand in Suter losing his stick, Saad said, “It’s a hockey play and it worked out.
Finally, the wait is over. As much as coach Mike Yeo appreciated the time to prepare for the Wild's second-round playoff series against Chicago, he seemed antsy to get going Thursday. The Wild held its last pre-Round 2 practice at Xcel Energy Center on Thursday morning, then flew to Chicago in the afternoon.
Yeo said the Wild would have a team dinner Thursday night, then watch some hockey and relax. Everyone on the active roster remains healthy, and everyone participated fully in practice. Jason Pominville, who sat out Wednesday because of illness, looked up to speed Thursday. Yeo said Pominville was given the day off to ensure he got "all his energy back.''
Despite the Wild's 0-6 playoff record at United Center, several players seemed excited to kick off the second round in that raucous arena. The Wild does have a 14-12-2 record there and defeated the Blackhawks 2-1 at United Center on April 7 in the game that clinched its playoff spot.
Charlie Coyle said he gets chills during the ultra-loud national anthem in the building, and he doesn't expect the Wild to be bothered by the rowdy environment.
"It’s just how you look at it, really,'' he said. "You know they’re going to be loud. Chicago’s a great building to play in with their crowd. They’re into it. They love their hockey. So it’s going to be fun. We always look forward to playing in their rink.
"As of late, we’ve been doing pretty good over there. We’re not really worried about what happened in the past. It’s a new year. We’ve got a new team here. We’ve got a different mindset. This group has so much confidence in our team, what we have in here, and what we can accomplish. We have to keep the mindset of going into this building, it’s going to be fun. It’s going to be a good atmosphere. We’ve been a good road team as of late. So we want to keep that going.''
The Wild worked on several phases of its game in Thursday's practice, which lasted a little more than an hour. That followed a long, detailed practice on Wednesday. Yeo said it had been a productive week, and the long layoff prevented players and coaches from having to scramble to get ready for a new opponent. They could spread out preparations over a few days, so players weren't overwhelmed by a flood of information in a short period of time--and as the week went on, Yeo said, they had the time to focus on their own game.
Matt Cooke also was happy to have more time between the first and second rounds. Last year, he said, the Wild was "still hung up'' on its first-round victory when it traveled to Chicago for Game 1 of the second round, only two days after defeating Colorado in an emotional Game 7 on the road.
"I think it’s been good for us,'' he said. "It allows us to get time for preparation, and it allows us to heal a little bit. Last year, we rushed right from Colorado to Chicago to get started. This year, we were able to come home and refresh a little bit, enjoy the first-round win, but really get focused for the second round.''
Cooke said he thinks the Wild have a great matchup in the Blackhawks, and he added that the Wild will be looking to control the pace of Game 1 on the road. While his team shouldn't overemphasize Game 1, Cooke said, it shouldn't underemphasize it, either. He stressed that it's important for the Wild to be assertive in the opener.
Mikko Koivu said the Wild has a better understanding of how to advance in the playoffs, now that the team has won a series in each of the past two years. "I think that makes a difference, when you know what it takes,'' he said. "You’re not going to get anything with luck, or if you’re hoping you might get away with something; it’s not going to happen that way. You need to play really good hockey for a lot of games.
“(Chicago has) been there. They know what it takes. You have to be ready from Game 1 and be ready to do what it takes to even win one hockey game and stick with that. I think we’ve done a good job with that lately. We spent the last couple months day to day, just getting ready for the next one. That’s what it’s all about.”
Russo was in Chicago for today's Blackhawks practice and reports that winger Kris Versteeg--who wasn't expected to play in Game 1--sat out the practice because of a lower-body injury and is day-to-day.
I feel like a kid on a long car ride asking repeatedly, “Are we there yet? Are we there yet?”
I’m sure you feel the same way.
Let’s get this series started already.
Two more days until Wild-Blackhawks, Part 3.
Good afternoon from Xcel Energy Center’s press box. A reminder, I’ll be doing a podcast with columnist Jim Souhan today at 5 p.m. at the Liffey in St. Paul. Come on down or listen at souhanunfiltered.com, iHeart radio or iTunes.
If you didn’t read it, here was my latest of many Nino Niederreiter profiles I have written.
Just an fyi: follow Rachel Blount on Twitter (@blountstrib) Thursday. She’ll be covering the Wild’s practice here in Minnesota before it departs in the afternoon and I’ll be tweeting away, I’m sure, from Blackhawks practice in Chicago.
By the way, make sure you follow @schustee (Blake Schuster) on Twitter. He’ll be covering Games 1 and 2 with Souhan (@souhanstrib) and I from Chicago. Also, some Blackhawks scribes to follow are @MarkLazerus, @TramyersCSN, @ChrisKuc, @BrianHedger and @ESPNChiPowers.
The only bit of news from today’s Wild practice is Jason Pominville, whom I mentioned last week was playing sick along with at least Devan Dubnyk, did miss practice today because he was “under the weather,” according to coach Mike Yeo.
Jordan Schroeder took his spot on the Zach Parise-Mikael Granlund line today. As long as Pominville is OK by Game 1, the Wild’s lineup to start the series is expected to be the same as its Games 5 and 6 lineups against St. Louis. That would mean Schroeder, Erik Haula, Sean Bergenheim, Ryan Carter and Nate Prosser would start the series as scratches.
The big question going into this series is whether there will be a different outcome.
The Wild had a great second half, a great second half on the road. It has the goalie, more experience with the youngsters, good balance, depth up the middle. Lots of reasons why it should be different, but will it be?
“Nothing’s different right now,” Yeo said. “They’ve beaten us two years in a row and so it’s up to us to prove that something is different. It’s up to us to make something different. In other years we’ve gone in and we’ve said we’ve played pretty well against them. Last year we went in thinking we were pretty good against them, but nothing was different. I think it’s up to us to find something and make something different.”
On the Hawks, Yeo said, “One of the real challenges with them is it’s real tough to get a team like that to break. Part of that is their experience, what they’ve gone through, the fact that they’ve won. Maybe in different series you feel like you can frustrate a team or you can get in their head pressure-wise. I don’t think they feel a lot of those things. I think that maybe in-game from time to time there might be some of that, but I think it’s a team that regroups well. I think it’s got great leadership, great coaching. There’s many moments in the game where they’re able to withstand a lot and bend but maybe not break. But also very opportunistic where if you’re not extremely strong at those times, you open up just a little bit and that’s where they kill you.”
So it’ll really be imperative not to get into a track meet with them, in my opinion. I think it’s important the Wild tries to go in there and play it’s normal patient, frustrating, stick to it, gameplan, kinda like the way the Wild played in that building April 7 when it finally pounced with two quick goals by Jason Zucker and Mikael Granlund in the third period.
The Wild’s fast and deep, BUT, it doesn’t have the starpower that the Hawks have and if you get into that type of game, more times than not the Hawks will outskill you.
One player who could produce more is Thomas Vanek. He hit a crossbar and set up a couple plays for Charlie Coyle in the first round, but he had no goals and 10 shots in six games. Defensively, he was good, Yeo said.
But I felt he could be stronger on the wall and shoot more. I really feel this Zucker-Coyle-Vanek line could be an X factor against Chicago because you know the Hawks will really focus on shutting down the Granlund and Koivu lines. Zucker led the Wild with three goals in five games against the Hawks this season.
“Actually, I thought Charlie and I for the most part were pretty solid,” Vanek said. “I don’t think we got the bounces necessarily to score a big goal. But overall, I thought out line played a good role. Sometimes you don’t get the points and you think your series wasn’t that great, but overall I thought whatever line we were matched up against we did a good job. Offensively, I thought we could have contributed more, especially in Games 1 and 3. We hit some posts. But it’s a long playoffs and with the way our team is, we don’t rely on one or two teams to score. We score in bunches in lines. That’s what I told Chuckie – ‘We just need to stay positive and our turn will come.’”
On the Chicago series, Vanek said, “If you want to advance, we need depth and I think we have that. Obviously it’s frustrating when you don’t get on the board especially considering for the most part I thought we were pretty good. But our moment will come and we’ve just got to keep playing our game and making sure we’re good defensively which I thought for the most part we were. Offensively, we’ve just got to do a better job of putting them in.”
Against the Hawks, Vanek feels there could be more chances than the defensively-suffocating Blues.
“Against St. Louis, the focus, especially for our line, wasn’t to be creative,” Vanek said. “It was to be good defensively. We played a lot against the Lehtera, Stastny line so it was making sure that we made it hard on them. At the same time, we countered hard on them a few times, especially when Zucker got to our line. But again, the focus wasn’t to create much, it was more to make it tough for them. But Chicago is different. They have four lines that can score and they can create. Creating is going to be more of a premium in this round.”
This quote is kind of funny. Asked if he measures success by points, Vanek said, “I think when the goals go in, you measure it by points. When they don’t, you try to be positive and look at the chances. Against St. Louis, there weren’t many chances; the premium was on defense and checking. I thought our line did good. We shut them down and played well for the most part. Offensively we created a few chances and they just wouldn’t go in for us. Chuckie got one finally. But I told him, we just need to stay positive and our time will come.”
Asked if there’s pressure on him in his first postseason with the Wild to make a difference, Vanek said, “Sure. You want to be a difference maker this time of year. The St. Louis series was tough. There wasn’t much there. There were a lot of guys with open net goals. The score didn’t necessarily reflect the series sometimes. But Chicago is two-time Stanley Cup champs. To me, they’re still the best team in the league. For us, it’s a tough task but I think we’re up for it. For our line, we have to create like we have been and even more.”
Asked if he wants to prove people wrong after last postseason with Montreal, Vanek said, “Each postseason is different. Last year was tough for me. I got there at the deadline and found my niche early on and got away from that. I think you bring that experience of playing a little bit less and make sure you’re sharp, where last year I don’t think I was as good as this when my ice time was a little bit limited. I wasn’t as good as I should’ve been, but I’ve learned a lot from that series and that’s what I take away from it.”
Vanek said he’s motivated to win a Cup, something you appreciate as you get older in your career and you’ve had previous playoff success without getting to the pinnacle.
“That’s my message to young or old,” Vanek said. “I’ve been on three teams now where I went to the conference final and haven’t once advanced to the Cup. It’s hard – don’t take it for granted because you don’t know when you’ll get that chance again. We have something good going here, so let’s make sure we leave it all out there.”
Devan Dubnyk is getting excited for this round. He was in a typically jovial mood today, and I’ve got to say, he was awesome in practice.
“It’s all new stuff for me,” he said. “I tried as hard as I could to just treat it like I’ve been treating all the games and I felt pretty good about being able to do that. Same thing going forward. It’s good to get that first taste and that first series win out of the way. Keep moving forward.”
On his playoff beard, he jokingly asked, “Are you impressed with what’s on my face right now? I don’t think anyone’s impressed with what’s on my face. I’m enjoying it. It can just keep getting greasier.”
On how to beat Chicago, Dubnyk said, “I think just staying with how we play and the strengths of our game is our defensive game and our speed. A lot of our defense comes from puck possession in the offensive zone and being aggressive and using our speed to make turnovers. It’s all over the ice for us. Both teams are real good puck possession teams. It was the same thing with St. Louis. We’re going to continue to work on that and make sure we’re pressuring and not giving a lot of time and creating turnovers.”
Good late afternoon from Xcel Energy Center.
I trust you’ve seen the schedule. Games 1 and 2 on Friday and Sunday in Chicago, Games 3 and 4 on Tuesday and Thursday in St. Paul.
Get your beauty sleep early because they’re all going to be late nights.
Any single-game tickets released for home playoff games in Round 2 will be made available through Ticketmaster and the Xcel Energy Center Box Office. The Wild encourages fans to frequently check ticketmaster.com for availability and visit wild.com/ticketexchange to locate legitimate tickets being re-sold.
I will be hosting a live podcast at the Liffey at 5 p.m. on Wednesday, so come on down or listen on souhanunfiltered.com or iHeart Radio or subscribe on iTunes.
This will be another fairly large cut and paste quote blog toward the bottom because this day got away from me and I need to get out of here because I have tickets to a thing tonight and I’m already LATE for dinner.
If you didn’t see today’s stuff, go to startribune.com/wild for my advance on the series, a Blackhawks notebook led with Bryan Bickell and his Wild killerness, a Chip Scoggins’ column on the job Mike Yeo did this season as coach and a look at this year’s Blackhawks-Wild series.
In Wednesday’s Star Tribune, I wrote a feature on Nino Niederreiter, Patrick Reusse wrote a column and there’s a notebook with a lot of the stuff you’ll see here.
The gist of today?
The Wild’s just happy to take a few days to breathe.
Part of the benefit of finishing a series before seven games is a team can decompress before hitting it hard the next round. Last year, the Wild beat Colorado on April 30 and opened with the Chicago Blackhawks two days later. The Wild got smoked in Game 1, 5-2.
That same two-day scenario would have occurred this year had the Wild won Game 7 against the St. Louis, a game originally scheduled for Wednesday that won’t be played because the Wild took care of business Sunday in Game 6.
“It’s nice to not have to rush, to get a little extra time,” Yeo said before the Wild opens in Chicago on Friday. “It’s nice to have an opportunity to collect yourself after. Whenever you go through a hard series like that and come out with the win, there’s a lot of emotion involved.”
The Wild took Monday off. On Tuesday, it had an off-ice workout and an optional practice in which Mikko Koivu, Jason Zucker, Matt Cooke, Chris Stewart, Kyle Brodziak and Devan Dubnyk didn’t skate. A couple of those guys are banged up, so it’s good they’re getting time to rest.
Wednesday, Yeo will be looking for a “quality” practice from everyone.
“It’s an opportunity to rest here,” Yeo said. “Part of it is the physical part, but part of it is the mental part as well.”
Behind the scenes, the coaches have begun prepping for the Blackhawks, a team the Wild has played the past two postseasons.
“It can be overkill, too, if you bombard your players with too much information,” Yeo said. “So we’ll present the things we need to present. A lot of it is very familiar with this.”
Other highlights of today?
Yeo’s admiration for Dubnyk has grown throughout the season, as the coach has seen his goaltender meet challenge after challenge. It reached new heights last week, when Dubnyk absorbed a postseason battering for the first time in his career and came back with two magnificent performances.
Yeo admitted Tuesday that he was not certain how Dubnyk would handle his poor outing in Game 4 against St. Louis, when he was pulled after allowing six goals on 17 shots. Based on what Yeo had seen from him during the regular season, he was hopeful that Dubnyk would move on quickly, but the goalie had never been in such a situation. Dubnyk remained unflappable, stopping 36 of 37 shots—and frustrating the Blues with several highlight-reel saves—in a Game 5 victory that staggered St. Louis. In the Game 6 clincher, he stopped 30 of 31 shots.
“One critical thing for me—and I can say it now—is the way he responded after Game 4,’’ Yeo said. “I think that was a real important bounce-back for him.
“He’s had to battle through many things. There were reasons why we could believe that he would bounce back from that, but you never fully know until you’re faced with that—especially because there are more emotions in the playoffs. You’re dealing with a lot more. But the way he got through that was extremely impressive.”
For the third year in a row, the Wild will be starting a playoff series in Chicago. It has yet to win a postseason game at United Center, going 0-3 there in a first-round loss in 2013 and 0-3 in a second-round loss last year.
The Wild was outscored 11-4 at United Center in last year’s playoffs, with all three games drawing deafening crowds of more than 22,000. In 2013, the Blackhawks rolled up a 12-4 scoring margin.
While the players are well aware of their postseason victory drought at the arena, they have hope that things will be different this time around. The Wild went 24-15-2 on the road during the regular season--including a 12-game win streak that matched the NHL record—and won two of three first-round games at St. Louis.
“It’s a tough rink to play in,’’ winger Zach Parise said of the Hawks’ home. “It’s not a secret; we haven’t had any success there in the playoffs the last couple of years. It is a hard building.
“But like we’ve said, the last little while and the last (playoff) round, we’ve been playing well on the road. That’s a good sign for us.’’
The Blackhawks were off today, so the below quotes are smatterings from today’s availability:
How important will discipline be this round like last round? No question that will be a big factor. That was one of the keys to the last series was the discipline, and that comes in a few different forms and it’ll be a challenge again this series. First off, power play, you don’t want to be putting them on the ice. The discipline to take care of the puck, to play with the puck a certain way, to not feed into their rush game and obviously the discipline to make sure you’re moving your feet, keeping your sticks down, those little things.
Seems no animosity and hatred against Chicago as there is against St. Louis and Colorado? Well, probably a different [animosity]. I mean, I don’t think, I don’t think that we love them (grins). They knocked us out a couple years in a row here. It’s a different intensity in the game. There’s not the scrums, there’s not as much as that stuff going on after the whistles. That’s probably a little bit more because the two teams are built differently. But it is a good rivalry. It’s been that way. We certainly remember the feelings of getting knocked out twice by these guys.
How important is center play in this series: “It’s going to be huge through the middle. We always talk about goaltending, we can talk about defense, and our centermen are going to be key. They’re going to be key because you have to be good at both ends of the ice. We’re playing against a very well-rounded team, a very good offensive and defensive team, so they’re going to challenge you at both ends. It’s not like you can go into a shift in the offensive zone and just let your guard down; you’ve got to be ready to go.
“But again, because of their well-roundedness, because of their depth, this not just about our centermen, this is not just about one position. This is about our team. That’s how we were successful last series, that’s how we’re going to be successful this series.”
On the team’s defense: “It’s team commitment. First off, you have to have capable players -- especially the defensemen. But it’s very well-rounded, it’s very connected to every part of our game. For us to be effective defensively, there aren’t a lot of things that can be missing. We like to say we play as a unit of five on the ice. The better we execute, the better we play with the puck, the easier our defensive game is because we’re defending less. But I think it’s like everything else: It’s an aggressive mindset on how we play the game. We’ve got some speed, we’ve got some guys that really compete hard. But as a group, as a unit of five, we like to think we get on teams quickly and pressure them hard, and we like to think we do that with a good structure.
On Chicago: “They have some guys that are going to finish checks, but they have a lot of guys that are far more physical than you realize, and physical in their puck strength and their puck battles and how they’re going to get to the hard areas and compete on the boards and to get to the net. They’re heavy in that area for sure. They also play with a lot of pace.
“When you have a team that’s won a couple Cups, like they have, and they’ve had to play off success like they have, you have to be able to play different types of games and beat different types of opponents. They’ve demonstrated that.”
On the time off: “It’s nice to have that little break. It was a pretty physical series so everyone gets some bumps and bruises. It’s nice to have couple days off, mentally, especially, forget about hockey for a day or two and then come back fresh. The break is good.”
Help to be so familiar with them: “It helps, you’re familiar with them, they haven’t changed the way they play, their systems are the same, their players for the most part, it’s all the same guys. We know them really well throughout the regular season and the playoffs, we’re familiar with them.”
How do they compare to St. Louis: “It’s a different style. They’re a much more puck possession style team. I think St. Louis is more a lot of quick up, dump it in and try and get on the forecheck where Chicago makes more plays off the rush and holds onto the puck a lot more. Their [defensemen] are really mobile.”
How far have the Wild come since the first playoff series against Chicago: “A long ways. I think just the development and improvement of all the players. There have been some different personnel changes. But from the guys who are still here who were there for that first year, it’s a lot different. We’re playing better, we feel like we’re playing better and I think we’ve improved over the last couple of years.”
Is this a way for you to gauge how you are as a puck-possession team: “They’ve been the team to beat, them and LA, in the Western Conference, they’ve been the teams to beat the last couple of years. When you get a chance, yeah, you see where you’re at. If you want to get out of the West, you have to beat them. It seems like they’re in the conference finals every year and playing for the Stanley Cup. It’ll be a good test.”
Is there something they do to slow you down personally: “They’ve got a good checking line that’s tough to play against. They handle the puck really well, their [defensemen] can skate, so they don’t give you a lot of room. That’s something that we have to look at and be better with the puck and when we get chances. But the last couple games, as a line, we played well against them.”
Importance of depth: “Throughout the whole postseason it’s going to be important, and these guys, they’ve got a lot of scoring throughout their lineup and it seems like if one line’s not going then the other one is. And if that one isn’t, then the other. They’ve got a lot of good scorers up front, and they get a lot of contributions from their defensemen throughout, so you have to know who you’re out against and you have to beat the line that you’re playing against. That depth for us has been a big part of our success the last little while and it’s going to be from here on out.”
is there more respect for Chicago than hatred? There’s definitely not going to be that stuff after the whistle. I think they’re a good team. They play hard, they play smart. I think they’ve been successful the last couple of years, I think they like to play during the whistle and not after, that’s how they’ve been successful. It’s going to be a good series. We’re just looking forward to the first one, getting ready, we know it’s a good team over there we’re going to face.
On the Hawks: “We obviously respect them. We know how good of a team they are. But we’re pretty confident in what we’ve got over here. It’s going to be a good battle for us. They’ve knocked us out the last two years, so we want some sort of payback here. We want to be on the winning end of things this time around. So I think that’s what we’re looking to do. We’ve got to focus on that first game, and that’s what’s nice about this time, is to prepare for that first one. We have plenty of time to do that.”
what do they throw at you offensively vs. what you saw from St Louis? I think as far as our game, nothing’s changing. There are little things we have to go over. St. Louis, they’re not afraid to put it behind you, go get it, bang in there. Chicago, they like controlling the puck. They like making plays. They have enough skill over there, they have skill and speed, kind of similar to us, I think. They’ve got some guys over there who like to have the puck on their stick and make those pretty plays. It’s gonna be a little different, yeah. But for the most part, I think we’re just gonna focus on our game.
How important is playoff experience to the young players, and how far do you think you’ve come since your first experience? It’s been huge. We have a lot of young guys in here who already have two years worth. So it’s just to gain that experience and carry it with you, to know what to expect. Just the whole atmosphere of the playoffs; the intensity ramps up. So just to know what to expect. I think coming in, everyone felt a little more confident, not worrying about what to expect or what not to expect. Everyone just kind of knew and carried that confidence, and I think that helped us in the first round here to kind of just jump at them right away. I think the last couple years, we’ve gotten off to slow starts. I don’t know if was inexperience or what. It’s a new series here, and we’ve got to keep carrying that confidence and keep it building.
Looking back at the first playoff series vs Chicago two years ago, does it feel worlds different? Yeah, it does. I think we’re pretty confident in our group right now. I think in years before, we had a good team. We were just happy to be in the playoffs, to be honest. I think this time around, we know we have a team that can do something special, to make a run. And we have the confidence to go with it, I think, and that’s huge. We just have to keep building that. The group we have in here, we like our chances. You just try to enjoy the process. I think that's just what we're trying to do. I don't think we're surprised by the way we beat St. Louis; we were pretty confident. They're obviously a great team and finished the year in a great position, but the second half of the year, we were one of the top teams in the league, if not the best. I think we just kind of carried that with us. You do look around. You just try to enjoy it. We have a great team, and we know that, and we're going against a great team. So it's going to be a good battle; we're just trying to prepare for it.”
More on Chicago: We know what to expect from them. We've seen them before. And I think facing them the last two times, I think the team we have right now, we just feel so much more confident with what we have here. We've gotten better, and you can see that by we got knocked out the first round two years ago, we made it to the second round last year. So we've taken steps, but we feel like this group can do a lot more, and I think that just comes with our confidence here. We've got to just put that in our mindset. We're a good team, and like I said, we're going against a great team in Chicago. They're always out there at the end of the year; they never leave early. They're always there, and they definitely have a ton of experience, but we're so happy with what we've got here. We're looking to do more, and we know we have more to give. That's the scary part, too. It's going to be fun. We're ready for it.”
The Wild and Blackhawks open the Western Conference semifinals on XXX, play Game 2 on XXX, play Game 3 on XXX, play Game 4 on … .
Look, the schedule is on a need to know basis. Obviously NONE OF US need to know!!!!
In all seriousness, I will insert the schedule here when the NHL releases it.
The Wild and Blackhawks will start the second round ... at an unknown time on an unknown date. When that time and date are set, you will officially know when Bryan Bickell scores his first goal of the series.
I'll be on KFAN at 4:30 p.m.
Two bits of news out of Chicago:
1. Corey Crawford was named the Game 1 starter. The Predators busted a hole through Crow early in the series, but he came on in relief of Scott Darling in the Blackhawks’ come-from-behind Game 6 win over Nashville and gets the nod probably in large part to, well, he’s won a Cup, has been their longtime No. 1 and the fact he’s 8-3 against the Wild in the playoffs with a 1.66 goals-against average and .937 save percentage.
Coach Joel Quenneville, one of the great NHL coaches who classily congratulated coach Mike Yeo and his staff within minutes of the Wild clinching a playoff spot in Chicago on April 7, said Crawford gets the start because of a “great response in a very important game for us. All of a sudden it was a tight game and the game was on the line. He did everything he could. It was a great win for him and for us. He’s exiting the series on a real positive note. I’m sure it was not easy watching and doing everything he can to get that chance he got. He certainly put us in the position now, it’s his net, let’s go.”
On changing goalies and some saying goaltending is allegedly Chicago’s sudden weakness, Coach Q said, “I don’t think that was in the forecast and I don’t think that’s the plan. I think you have confidence with the goalie that’s going in the net. You don’t think like that going into a game … or a series. That’s something we’ve never had to deal with before. But I’m fine with our goaltending situation and very confident Corey is going to get the job done.”
2. Kris Versteeg looks like he will be a scratch in Game 1 and the very talented Teuvo Teravainen will come in.
Cue Q: “I think that offensively, defensively, I think he’s got real good awareness to where he needs to be positionally. I think in the puck area, he’s got some real nice movement with it, good patience and play recognition. Against Minnesota, they check very well, we’ve got to make sure we’re very good in the puck area and strong in the puck area. So I think he gives us some options both sides of the puck. I like his awareness. I’m sure he should be excited.
On Versteeg, Q said, “I didn’t mind him in the [Predators] series. I just think that having the puck, keeping the puck, movement, speed, positionally, playing a strong team game. He was fine.”
Chicago Blackhawks projected lineup
Brandon Saad-Jonathan Toews-Marian Hossa
Bryan Bickell-Brad Richards-Patrick Kane
Patrick Sharp-Antoine Vermette-Teuvo Teravainen
Andrew Desjardins-Marcus Kruger-Andrew Shaw
Duncan Keith-Michal Rozsival
Johnny Oduya-Niklas Hjalmarsson
Kimmo Timonen-Brent Seabrook
Extra forwards: Kris Versteeg, Joakim Nordstrom, Daniel Carcillo
Extra defensemen: David Rundblad, Kyle Cumiskey, Michael Paliotta
Wild projected lineup
Nino Niederreiter-Mikko Koivu-Chris Stewart
Zach Parise-Mikael Granlund-Jason Pominville
Jason Zucker-Charlie Coyle-Thomas Vanek
Matt Cooke-Kyle Brodziak-Justin Fontaine
Ryan Suter-Jonas Brodin
Marco Scandella-Jared Spurgeon
Jordan Leopold-Matt Dumba
Extra forwards: Sean Bergenheim, Ryan Carter, Erik Haula, Jordan Schroeder.
Extra defensemen: Christian Folin, Nate Prosser.
Extra goalie: Niklas Backstrom.
Injuries: D Keith Ballard (concussion) is out.
The Wild had the day off. The Hawks practiced in Chicago. Here’s some more quotes on the series from a quote exchange I’m in with the Chicago scribes.
Quenneville on the Wild: They’re a good hockey team and they had an amazing run to get into the playoffs. They’ve got a lot of confidence. They play an excellent team game. They’ve got some speed, quickness. They made that trade for a goalie. They’ve gained a lot of momentum at this time of the year off what they’ve achieved. I think we’re very familiar with their team, what they’re capable of doing and knowing that we’ve got a great challenge in front of us.”
Q on the Wild’s upswing: “Based on the way they started and the way they ended I think there’s definitely some more excitement to their game and some more depth to their team game. So it’s going to be a real good challenge for us, knowing we’ve got to be better. But let’s be excited about the chance.”
Q on solving Devan Dubnyk: “I think the whole league had that challenge at the end of the year. I think as a team they check extremely well. Quality scoring chances are hard to come by. I’m sure St. Louis felt that as it progressed. They check from … not a lot of time. Not a lot of space. You’ve got to get ugly goals. You’ve got to get to the net. Second opportunities. If he sees the puck he’s going to make it tough on you. That’s the one thing we’ve got to do. We know when you play him, you don’t expect to score a lot of goals. But you want to make sure you don’t give up much.
Toews on Wild: “There’s no coincidence watching them play in the previous series. The way they played at the end of the year coming into the playoffs that they made it through that round and beat a very good team. Now that we face them, I feel like they’re getting better and better in a lot of ways every year. I think it’s going to be the toughest test we’ve seen in a long time, so it’s up to us. We know there’s another level we need to get to.”
Toews on Wild’s improvement since two years ago: “I guess we’ll find out, but I think you have to have a lot of respect for them, for their complete game. They’ve got guys who can score, who can create offense in big games, but I think for the most part they rely on their defense and their skating ability to really shut teams down and not give up much. As we can see their goaltending has been real strong, too. We know from playing against them in the regular season, even when they went through their rough patch for a little while — they were losing quite a few games — that they weren’t giving much up against us and we really had to work for our offense and it’s going to be that to a whole new level in this series so it’s something we have to be prepared for, some way try to give that same effort on the defensive end and we know we be better in front of our goaltenders It’s that commitment to that defensive type game that’s going to give us come success in this series as well.”
Toews on Dubnyk: “I think he’s a big goaltender just like the one we just faced. He’s got a team that plays well around him. They block a lot of shots, get in lanes and they don’t give up a whole lot of scoring chances from the middle of the ice, so I think when you know you’re up against a goaltender whose playing awesome like that who covers a lot of net, you’ve got to do what you can to get in front of him. So it’s something we’ll focus on and it’s nothing new going up against a goaltender who’s been playing well.”
Confidence after this win?
They were first place in the toughest division in the league. They are as tough a team as any to play against. We should enjoy that and realize that we deserve to win the series and take some confidence moving forward, but also understand that there’s a pretty great hockey team waiting for us there. I’m sure there are some guys that would like to give a little payback for last year’s playoffs.
Confidence against Blackhawks after clinched playoffs there?
Same thing with St. Louis – any time you can get that winning feeling at home and in the other teams building in the regular season, it doesn’t mean that you’re going to be given anything in the postseason, but it’s nice to know that winning feeling in another building. It’s fresh in our minds and we’ll try to use that but try to understand that it’s going to be a much different hockey game in Game 1.
Remarkable where you were in January- “Yeah, it’s pretty crazy. I think we definitely made some strides. We’ve been playing some better hockey. We’ve been better as we’ve been moving along, which is a good sign going into the playoffs. But this is one step and we’ve got to keep looking at what’s ahead of us and we’ve got a chance to play a team that we’ve seen quite a bit in recent years. Hopefully this time’s the right one.”
Way you played them in playoffs give you confidence-
“They’re a tough team to play against. Just look at last night, they’re down by three with less than 10 minutes into the game and they find a way to bounce back into it. They’ve got a lot of firepower. They can defend. They do a lot of good things. It’s not going to be easy, but obviously taking notes on what we did last year. It’s a different year, but we know we can play with those guys. Hopefully, like I said, this is the year.”
You watched them last night???-
“I watched on and off, but I saw the comeback. I didn’t see the first three goals and then I kind of saw them getting back into the game and I stopped watching after that.”
They play a different style from Blues-
“It will be a different type of game. Their speed, their counterattack, their skill is definitely in the top of the league, so it’s going to be a little bit different. Not to take anything away from these guys, they’re big, they’re physical, but they definitely have some guys that can make you pay too if you make a mistake. It’s going to be a battle.”
Confidence is high, seems you’re ready to do something –
“Yeah, hopefully. We’ve had to be ready for a little while now just to get in. We got in feeling good about our game and kind of snowballed effect through the first round. We knew it wasn’t going to be easy. Now that we’re past first one, we got to look at what’s ahead of us. But knowing that we’ve played these guys the last couple of years, it’s not going to be easy. They’re a good team. They’re an elite team. They’ve proven it. We got to be up for the task.”
“Don't get me wrong. It's great for us to win and beat a really good St. Louis team, and we should enjoy it, and enjoy it for a couple days and now look forward to our series against Chicago. That's a team that's knocked us out for the last couple years, so we've got to be ready for them.”
“That's a big part. These guys are, every year, they're Cup contenders. For us to want to get in that conversation with them, we've got to beat them. Again, it'll be a good series. It'll be a tough series.”
Postseason progression of this team:
“That's the plan. We've got good, really good players that are in their second and third year. They're getting really good experience, and they're developing really well. They're a big part of this, and they're going to be for a long time. That’s the plan; you want to keep getting better and take that next step.”
When look ahead to Chicago?:
“You have to enjoy a series win for a day or so and then watch some other hockey and see when we'll be starting. We deserve to enjoy it a little bit, and then after that, you shift your focus right away and start analyzing and breaking down the other team we play against. We'll start that right away.”
On revenge: Revenge is probably the wrong word but any time that you play playoff series in consecutive years against the same team it creates a rivalry. I felt like we had a great series with them last year and thought we deserved a better fate with the style of series that we played, but we get another shot at them. The teams are different this year and we’re going to have to go out and be at our best if we’re going to have any chance to win.
OK, that is it for now. I have a meeting at work, believe it or not. Anybody know where our new offices are?
Lots of stuff in Tuesday’s paper – and beyond.
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