Finally, after four days of practice, the Wild resumes its schedule Thursday night—and in perhaps the hardest possible way. It’s never a picnic to play the Blackhawks at United Center, but the Wild is catching Chicago in the midst of a head-spinning start to the season.
The Blackhawks have scored 21 goals in four games this season, and 11 of those have come in the first period. That makes a strong start imperative for the Wild, which could be a challenge for a team that’s been out of game action for so long. Coach Bruce Boudreau noted the Wild knows from experience how important it is to get an early lead on Chicago; last season, he recalled, the Blackhawks took a 2-0 lead in each of their four games against the Wild and won three of them.
Chicago beat Pittsburgh 10-1 in its season opener and is 3-0-1.
Boudreau said earlier this week that the Blackhawks “have some magical players,’’ and they’ve only added to the arsenal. Brandon Saad is back after two productive seasons in Columbus, and Patrick Sharp has returned via free agency.
“The key word is, be ready,’’ Boudreau said. “They come out strong. If we’re not ready to play, then they jump into the lead, then they’re a great team to capitalize on mistakes. When other teams start to force it because they’re behind, then (the Blackhawks) are great at staying in the weeds and taking advantage of your mistakes.’’
Wild center Mikko Koivu said the Wild must be prepared to match Chicago’s speed and physicality from the get-go.
“We’ve got to be desperate going into the game right from the start, and we’ve got to make sure our forecheck is going right away,’’ Koivu said. “We’ve got to make sure we get pucks deep behind their D and start the forecheck right from there. It’s been a while since we played, so the sooner the better. We need to just get on the pace on the first shift and start rolling line after line.’’
With both Zach Parise and Mikael Granlund out of the lineup, the Wild will again play 11 forwards and seven defensemen. You won't catch Boudreau crying about it, though, not even before a game at United Center with his team in search of its first victory this season.
"Somebody's got to step up and do the job,'' he said. "If you sit there and pull the 'Woe is me' thing, then you're always getting your built-in excuse for failure. We're a group that doesn’t ever want to have that particular thought.''