Maybe it was the benefit of home matchups. Maybe it was the jolt players received from the electric home crowd. Or maybe it’s just that extra confidence most teams have playing at home.
Whatever the reason, the friendly confines of Xcel Energy Center proved to be the tonic that cured the first-round blues for the Wild.
If the Wild has any hope of getting back into its second-round playoff series with the Chicago Blackhawks after losing the first two games in Chicago, the X will have to deliver yet again.
“I don’t think we’re that far off,” coach Mike Yeo said Monday, a day off for most his players. “I don’t think that we’re quite there, but we’re not that far off. So hopefully a day’s rest and coming back home with a chance to get reset, refocused here and energized with our crowd … gets us jump-started here.”
Late last month, the Wild returned to St. Paul from Colorado down 2-0 in the best-of-seven quarterfinals. The Wild put forth two dominant efforts to draw even in the series. It then won a third home game before finally pulling off a captivating overtime road victory in Game 7.
Tuesday night, the Wild returns to the X in an identical position. For the first time since Nino Niederreiter’s Game 7 heroics, the Wild appears in front of the hometown fans down 2-0 to the Blackhawks.
“We’ve been here before,” right winger Charlie Coyle said. “Right now we just have to focus on the next one. That’s all we have to do. We said that last series, too, and we came out and got a win here.”
Last season, the Wild returned to St. Paul from Chicago also down 2-0 and won Game 3 in overtime on Jason Zucker’s goal. The Blackhawks have lost eight consecutive road games to open playoff series.
“It’s a loud building,” Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville said of the X. “They play well at home. It’s a good hockey team. They play a tight game. They’re very stingy in their own building, so we’ve got to make sure to quiet the crowd as best we can early and try to weather that storm.”
A tough opponent
Last round, after beating the Avalanche in Game 3, the Wild called the game a must-win. It’s safe to say the Wild cannot afford to fall behind 3-0 to the defending Stanley Cup champions.
“I don’t see a lot of difference [from being down 2-0 last round],” defenseman Clayton Stoner said. “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. There’s a lot of belief in this room after coming back against Colorado, and they’re a good team, too.”
The Blackhawks are perennially one of the best teams in the NHL for a reason. Not only can they strike offensively at any point, they are fast and terrific with and without the puck. Defensively, they are one of the best teams in the league, and not only because of their mobile blue line. They blocked 25 Minnesota shots in Game 2, their forwards are committed to the team game and their goaltender, Corey Crawford, has a 2.01 goals-against average in 45 career playoff games.
“A large part of that is the way they skate. They play a fast game,” Yeo said.
The Wild has scored three goals in two games, and none from its top-six forwards or top-four defensemen. Zach Parise and Mikko Koivu have combined for two points in two postseasons against Chicago and Jason Pominville and Matt Moulson, acquired the past two trade deadlines to add offense in the playoffs, have combined for two goals.
“We’ve talked about it almost like quicksand a little bit, the more you struggle, the deeper you get,” Yeo said. “That’s why it’s really important to make sure that you’re focused on the game.”
Getting energy back
In Game 2, the Wild looked like a tired team. It beat Colorado in Denver on Wednesday and began its playoff series with Chicago two days later. That was followed by an afternoon game two days after that.
The Wild lacked any oomph in Game 2.
“You get so high up after that Game 7 win and you feel great,” Coyle said. “You go to Chicago and I don’t know if we just kind of went through the motions or why after that such a high. You lose that game, and all of a sudden it feels like it’s the end of the world again.
“We’ve got to put those games behind us.”
Yeo and several players say they think Monday’s day off will help recharge the batteries.
“There’s nothing to save it for now,” Coyle said. “It’s end of the year, playoff time. We need to get our energy up. We know we still have it. We’ve just got to go out and prove it and show it. We have to the team to do it. We’ve done it before. We did it last series when things weren’t going our way and we changed things around.”
The Blackhawks have beaten Minnesota in six of seven playoff games the past two seasons.
“It’s not like they’re killing us out there,” Stoner said. “They’re capitalizing on their chances and we’re not. I think the belief in the room is very strong. As much as we respect them, I don’t think that we think they’re a better team.”
Added Dany Heatley, “We believe we can beat this team.”