The Wild will attempt to avoid a third consecutive 0-2 series' hole to the Chicago Blackhawks tonight at the United Center.
The big news of the morning is Erik Haula will make his playoff season debut tonight. Scratched in the seven previous playoff games and three of the final six games of the regular season, Haula will play for the first time since April 11 because Justin Fontaine is out with a groin injury.
Kyle Brodziak will move to right wing and Haula will center the line 5-on-5 with Matt Cooke. Brodziak will take some draws on the right side, too.
"I am excited," said Haula, who found out by seeing his name on the board after arriving at the rink this morning. "Like I said yesterday, that’s the only feeling I really have is excitement. I’ve been working hard but it’s not about me. It’s about me coming in and helping. It’s not about what happened before, it’s about this team and playing as well as we can tonight."
Today's Star Tribune coverage:
My advance on tonight's game and the Wild's confidence it can avoid that hole
Coach Mike Yeo had a number of options to replace Fontaine, but Yeo said he wants Haula's speed to be a factor and the ultimate decider was the fact that Haula scored three goals and two assists and was plus-4 against the Hawks in last year's playoffs.
"I’ve said it before, it wasn’t about beating up on Haula at that time," Yeo said of scratching him to start the playoffs. "There were other guys that just deserved to be in the lineup. And we were choosing to only dress 12 forwards.
"But what we’d like to see from him is his speed has to be a factor. The way he’s skating through the middle of the ice, the way he’s supporting pucks, the way he’s challenging the defensemen and pushing them back. But also, more than anything else, it’s his battle level, it’s his defensive game. Those guys are going to be on the ice against good players and they have to make sure they’re up to that task."
Haula was the guy Yeo took out in Chicago on April 7 when Jason Zucker returned, so a lot of this was a numbers game.
But Yeo wants Haula to compete harder, use his speed more, bring energy and be strong in the dirty areas.
Not much else going on.
The Wild is 0-7 in this arena the past three postseasons, "Far more important for me is it would be nice to even up the series and go back to Minnesota with home-ice advantage. I think obviously it would go more from a big disadvantage to a little bit more of an advantage in our favor. I’m not getting caught up in all that stuff. Most important is just to make sure that we’ve got the right focus coming into the game. That’s when we’re at our best when we’re focused on our process. We know how important that end result is to us, but how do we go about trying to obtain it – that’s got to be our focus right now."
Charlie Coyle also said the Wild's not intimidated by the giant arena, loud fans, etc., etc.
“It’s not even a factor," Coyle said. "We clinched a playoff spot in this building a week or two ago, so it’s really just a mindset coming in, clearing your mind, coming in and saying ‘we’re a good team here.’ We’ve been good on the road of late and we’ve got to carry that into it. We’re not focusing on that too much. It’s a new game, a new day and we’ll treat it as that.”
One area the Wild has to pay attention to is how quickly the Blackhawks counter, not even after turnovers, but shots on goal. I haven't seen a team so good at turning a shot on goal or blocked shot into a rush in a snap.
Devan Dubnyk mentioned that yesterday, in fact.
I asked Yeo about that this morning. How do you guard against this? "I think there’s a couple things – one you have to make sure that when you have an opportunity to shoot the puck, you’re getting it off quickly. Especially their defensemen, they like to front a lot of shots which leads to a lot of blocks and those blocks are in pretty good structure and position where they can counter attack from that. It’s the recognition – we still have to shoot pucks. It’s not like we can all the sudden just be afraid to shoot pucks. We have to make sure we’re getting pucks there. And if we do get it by them, we’ve seen a few pictures already where we are in behind their defensemen and we’re all alone with the goalie where we can create an advantage if we get it off a little quicker and do get it to the net. If that’s not there, the recognition of making sure we’re not forcing it – that’s actually how we scored our first goal of the game. we didn’t have a play to the net and their defensemen were coming up and we were able to get that puck down low and establish some puck control from there."
Zach Parise said, "We learned a lot from that first game. We want to come out and establish our pace right away, play the game we want to play and just try and win the first period.”
Parise also talked about the progression of Mikael Granlund's game: "Since I’ve been here it’s been pretty impressive. He really came into his own last year in the second half of the year and the Olympics. despite a couple of injuries he’s had he’s played some really good hockey. He competes hard, he’s fast, he’s good at carrying the puck through the middle and that really helps out his wingers when he’s able to skate up the middle of the ice and kick it out to the sides, it gives us a little extra room.”
BY THE WAY, the great Doc Emrick has been getting lit up by some of you by the way he pronounces Mikael Granlund, like GRAHNLOOND. That's actually correct. We asked Granlund today and that's how it's pronounced in Finland. We all Americanize it and frankly he said, "The thing is, I don't really care. You need to ask my mom."
Emrick told Granlund, "The good thing is it doesn't affect your play one way or the other." Granlund said, "Exactly. Who cares?"
Dubnyk is looking to rebound.
Here's some of his comments from this morning:
Sticking to their game plan no matter what: “We’ve done a good job of rolling along here regardless of what happens. Game 5 against St. Louis they got a power play goal in the first 10 minutes of the first period and we didn’t sow down, we stuck to the plan and ended up taking that game. We certainly want to try and get a lead but we understand that we need to chip away and stick to our game regardless of what happens.”
On getting a split, and ultimately winning the series: “We have to believe in ourselves and in our game plan and realize that we’re fully capable of winning a game, not just hoping to win it. We feel that if we keep getting better we’ll have some success.”
His first playoffs: “It’s been a lot of fun. Exciting times. I’m happy that we had the opportunity in the few months leading up where every game was so meaningful and we really needed it to get that experience of parking games, win or loss, forgetting about them and moving on to the next one. That was so important down the stretch. Not having playoff experience, that experience down the stretch has really helped me so far.”
Playing in the hostile environment of the United Center: “It’s a different challenge. You know that if they’re yelling at you and giving you a hard time it’s usually because you’re doing a good job. This has always, right from when I first came into the league, one of my favorite places to play. It’s such a great atmosphere and always an exciting game to play. You always know you’re in tough against this group. Hopefully I can create some good memories here.”
Coming back in games: “You try not to think too much about the situation. You don’t think about needing to score three goals, you think about getting to your game. It was really impressive the way we came out in the second period and started playing exactly how we want to play, using our speed as much as we can.”
Wild’s ability to bounce back after a loss this season: “It’s not thinking about losing back to back games. Not approaching it as a bounce back game, We’ve been so good down the stretch at approaching and preparing for every game, whether it’s a five or six game win streak or we’ve lost one. We just prepare the next game the exact same way. It’s important, when you have a group in here that’s as good as we are, that you don’t change anything. You think about bouncing back or needing to come out with a great effort. We know the effort we want to give every single night and we just continue with that regardless of what happened the game before.”