The Wild and St. Louis Blues practiced at opposite sites Friday. The Wild had an optional, one though where the majority of the team skated. The Blues had a full skate.
Coach Mike Yeo said all players are healthy from Thursday’s 4-2 Game 1 win over St. Louis and there will be no lineup changes.
“I don’t really see a reason to,” Yeo said.
Similarly, Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said no lineup changes, although he reunited David Backes and T.J. Oshie with Dmitrij Jaskin and Patrik Berglund moved to the Jaden Schwartz-Paul Stastny line.
“We’re not making any lineup changes,” Hitchcock said. “We need to play better. We need to play our way at a higher level and if we do that, we'll be in good shape. I think every aspect of our game needs to be amped up a little bit if we expect to beat this team here. They're a real good team and we're going to have to be on top of our game to beat them.”
The Wild expects the Blues to respond and Yeo is interested to see how the Wild handles being up in a series for the first time in his tenure. Remember, the Wild trailed the 2013 series against Chicago, never led last year’s Colorado series until winning Game 7 and never led the Chicago series in the second round.
“It shouldn’t be hard to stay hungry,” Yeo said. “If anything, it should fuel it a little bit more. I think we still recognize the tough challenge we have ahead of us. We got the first game. Rhat’s great. But we there’s an awful lot of work to be done still.
“I would fully expect them to come out and play a real physical brand of hockey, try to impose themselves on us. I expect them to try to throw everything at the net and try to crash the net real hard. I don’t think that’s a real big secret, but we’ve just got to make sure we’re not sitting around watching and waiting to see what they’re going to bring at us. We have our own gameplan that we’ve got to make sure we’re aggressive in how we approach ourselves.
“I think the idea is when you grab the lead, you want to push harder and try to extend it. I think for us to feel any kind of satisfaction or be overly pleased with ourselves, I don’t think you’re going to see that with our group. We know it’s going to be a tough test. All we can do right now is make sure we put our best game on the ice and go all-in with the way that we have to play and see what that gives us.”
Hitchcock said, “I thought they outchecked us. Their determination to defend was greater than ours was. Both offensively and defensively they had more minutes where they made it hard on us. If you look at the 60 minutes, there were ebbs and flows. We were really good in stages, they were just better in more stages. They were much better than we were in the second period and we mounted a pretty big comeback in the third, but I think their checking and compete on the puck was at a higher level throughout the lineup than ours was.
“I think they make you earn your stripes. So, it's our job to earn our stripes. They make you earn your ice whether it's in the D-zone or in the neutral zone, they make you earn your stripes. They check well. They're well-coached, they check well and I thought we had times where we let them off the hook when we didn't have to and that fed the engine that fed the odd-man rushes. We gave up too many odd-man rushes, but it was a lot of time when we had the puck and it was us having the puck in the offensive zone, getting checked off it, turning it over, forcing offense and then boom, they're gone and they got the foot-speed to go and we fed that engine a little bit too much.”
Zach Parise said, “From a mentality standpoint, the second one is so important for us and hopefully we can have the same type of game that we did.”
He said the pressure did not come off by winning Game 1: “That can be erased pretty quickly. We’d love to get out of here with a couple of wins. We did the first part of that last night and now we have to find areas to improve for the second game.”
Parise said, “Anytime you lose the first game in the series, you want to rebound and have a great second game. But at the same time, we can be better as well and we’re looking to put together a better second game.”
That was the theme in the Wild locker room today and clearly the message Yeo gave his team.
Nino Niederreiter: “[Saturday’s] a very important game for us. We know they’re going to come out even harder and that’s exactly what we’ve got to do too. We played some good hockey yesterday, but I think we can still crank it up another level.”
Charlie Coyle: They’re definitely not happy with their game. They obviously have more and we feel we have more too. You can never be complacent. We won. Put it behind us and stay levelheaded here. Bring that physicality back and it’s going to wear them down.”
Jordan Leopold: “We have a tough Game 2. Do we want it? Yeah. But it’s going to be a tough challenge. I’ve been in their room. I know they’re going to make some changes, look at video and do some things. I know what the mentality is and what the preparation’s going to be. It’s going to be right up there. They’re very focused. We need to be able to match it if not be better. They’re going to respond. We just need to stay with our gameplan.”
I talked to Chris Stewart and Niederreiter about Steve Ott, who was doing his best to get under the Wild’s skin last night. That’s Steve Ott. Just YouTube Steve Ott and Josh Harding to refresh your memory of his act.
But Stewart, Niederreiter and Jason Zucker (Ott grabbed hold of his collarbone real obviously) all ignored him, which could have the opposite effect, they said. Ignore him, smile and he and the Blues get more frustrated. Stewart said though don’t think for a second he won’t take an opportunity to return the favor at some point in this series after getting drilled by Ott yesterday.
More on that in Saturday’s paper.
Yeo on Jason Zucker today: “We needed speed to be a factor and I think we saw that last night. Speed for us is not about one guy and I think if you look at that one line, that line played fast all night too. That’s one thing, for sure he’s a guy that has the ability to break plays and push the D back and challenge them with his speed individually. But I think the thing that I was pleased with last night was the speed game that we played with and that’s not an individual thing, that’s how we play the game.”
I found this quote interesting on Zucker: “We’ve all know that he has the ability to finish, to create chances to score goals. His evolution has come and how he’s grown as a player and No. 1 how he plays without the puck. He finds himself in much better positions because of that, but his competitiveness is miles from where it was the first couple of years in here. He recognizes how he has to play the game, there is a conversation, I think we were in Long Island a couple of years ago (Russo note: this had to be last year) and just basically told him there is no reason you can’t play the game like Zach and that should be sort of a mentor for him in how he approaches the game, his tenacity, his work ethic his compete level and doing so, generate a lot more offense because of that.”
The Blues are 1-7-1 after long breaks. Yeo was asked about that: “We had the same break as them, so I wasn’t real concerned. We’ve got a lot of bodies right now. We had a period of time where we had a long break before we played the Rangers and we used that as a template of how not to use the week (chuckled). We kind of changed some things and I felt our guys would be ready to go. Plus, a long break in the dog days of a season are a different story than before you start the playoffs. Obviously you’re going to be pretty amped up and there was no shortage of intensity right from the start of the game. I was certainly pleased with how our timing looked right from the start.”
By the way, those changes he talked about? Basically that extra line of red jerseys were bystanders during a lot of line rushes.
Lastly, a cut and paste of Kevin Shattenkirk today. The always quotable Blues defenseman had a lot of good stuff to say, and you can sense the respect level he has for the Wild.
On the Blues being 1-7-1 when having three or more days off? It's a pretty weird stat. They had the same thing too. It's a matter of getting back into game form. Yesterday was a big game, there was a little bit of nerves there at the start. We just didn't get to our game right away, which ultimately hurt us, not being able to get on top of things early enough. We know what we did right yesterday and how we looked when we did and that's what we have to do tomorrow from the start.
Beating Minnesota? I think you just have to remember what the formula was. We were chipping pucks in, we were hard on our forecheck, the D men were getting shots to the net, that's important, they seemed to be playing passive in their zone, getting into shot lanes, not allowing anything to the inside, it's going to be hard ice to fight for, but when we did it, that's when we're successful. That's what we need to work on.
Hitchcock talks of keeping it simple? They can be a frustrating team at times because they're so patient in the neutral zone and their defensive zone. They're not really letting us into the middle and that can cause you to try to make plays that aren't there or force things. That's when we keep it simple, that's when we stick to our game of grinding things down physically and just trying to get pucks to the net and looking for those rebounds.
We know how to win at home. We still have the advantage on our side that we have a home game tomorrow. I think that's how we're approaching it. The first one slipped away from us, that's for sure, today we came with a fresh attitude. Tomorrow is important absolutely but we can't put too much pressure on ourselves.
Was the time off good for him? I felt good out there. I thought last night was the best I've felt since the injury. For me, that was the most promising thing out of yesterday, I felt more like myself than I pretty much have all year.
Back to the time off? That's part of it. They did it before too. They had three days off. I think when you're playing on the road it's easy not to force things and feel that pressure of having to get that game. I think we let that get to us a little early on. We settled in and that's the most important thing, that's what we have to remember and remember how we looked when we did.
Things you learned from seeing them in person, rather than on film or in previous games? I think just one thing that I've seemed to learn from them is you can't forget they played last year too and they had a pretty good playoff run. They showed a little more experience than maybe we knew they were going to have. They're a great team. They're deep like us, they play a very good team game, they have a goalie in net who's pretty confident and playing great hockey right now. We have to find a way to expose them and be able to pick on their weaknesses and open them up this series.
Puck possession a key to counteracting Minnesota's speed? That and not turning the puck over in those crucial areas, at their blue line, when we have possession in the neutral zone, making strong plays, that's what's key to really not feeding into that team speed they seem to have.
Wild faster than expected? It's the playoffs. They played to the best of their abilities and I think that's what every team does at this time of year. We knew they were fast, they showed it, they proved it, now we adjust to it, we know what it is, we know how to handle it.
I think the one thing we can work to do is with our size up front, we have the ability to get on those defensemen, younger guys, guys who aren't as big and physical as our guys, just really work and make them play hard. I think it's going to be tough for them to win battles against our big guys out front, that's why we have to get pucks to the net and work to find those rebounds because I think we can win those battles.
Getting more shots on Dubnyk? There was the opportunity to shoot pucks early and I was guilty of it early on, was having it on my stick too long and then trying to get it to the net. They were packing it in pretty tight, so when we get those pucks on the point we have to get it there quickly so they can't set their defense again. That goal was a good example of it.
Importance of scoring on Dubnyk? That's important for us. It's important mentally, to try to put it in his mind that we're coming and that's the way we're going to try to score goals. We did a great job last Saturday and we have to realize there's a way to do it. We need to stick with that game plan.
Talk to ya Saturday. I best write for the actual paper now. Plus, I’m going to the Cardinals-Reds game tonight.