I’m going to do my best to look ahead to the playoffs because that’s exactly what the Wild did during tonight’s 7-3 regular-season ending loss to the Nashville Predators.
I’ve been warning on here and on the radio the last few days that I expected tonight’s game would be like a glorified exhibition game and that’s exactly what it was. Wild players were in do-not-get-hurt mode. They dodged checks, dodged blocking shots, and from that standpoint, mission accomplished, coach Mike Yeo said, because the team got out of it healthy.
May sound like an excuse, but it’s reality. Yeo said the Wild will reset, start from scratch after a 6-1-1 end to the season and really begin prepping Tuesday in practice.
The one highlight was Jason Pominville having his second 3-point night in three games and becoming the third Wild player in history to hit the 30-goal mark. He also hit the 60-point mark. Marian Gaborik and Brian Rolston scored at least 30 eight times with the Wild.
Rookie Erik Haula scored a goal and an assist for his first career multi-point game and had seven points in seven games since replacing Mikael Granlund as second-line center. The Wild has Monday off, and the expectation is Granlund will ramp it up with the rest of the team Tuesday and Wednesday and get into more battle drills as the Wild prepares for Game 1 of the playoffs Thursday in Denver.
If Granlund can play, Yeo made it clear that Granlund will reassume his No. 2 center spot.
“I think that Haulzy deserves an awful lot of credit for what he’s done, there’s no question,” Yeo said. “But when it comes to Granny, we’ll see how practice goes this week, but we are talking about a guy who led our team when Mikko [Koivu] went down playing against No. 1 D pairings and No. 1 centermen. You look at what he did in the Olympics playing against the best players in the world, … this is a pretty good player. So it’s great what Haulzy’s done, and we haven’t made any decisions yet, but we’re getting a pretty good player back if Granny’s able to come into our lineup.”
Said Haula: “[Granlund] deserves it. He’s had a great season. He’s played well with Pommer all year long. I jump in when he gets hurt. When he’s healthy he’s going to come back and take that spot on that line, I’m sure. I’m ok with that. Whatever the role, I’m ok with it.”
A reader brought up an idea on Twitter that somebody in the hockey industry mentioned to me in the press box tonight: It’s clear Yeo understandably wants to have a Matt Cooke-Kyle Brodziak shutdown line in the playoffs. Maybe an option is to put Haula on right wing at that line. This way he can take draws on his strong side instead of Brodziak at times and also it creates more of a scoring threat for that line and he would get more minutes than he would as fourth-line center. In addition, it seems like Cooke (by the way, he was in playoff form tonight getting under Shea Weber and Rich Clune’s skin) and Haula have had chemistry for a lot of the second half when they’re on the ice together, particularly shorthanded.
Then, you go with a fourth line of Cody McCormick centering Stephane Veilleux or Justin Fontaine and Nino Niederreiter. If there are times Yeo wants elevate Niederreiter’s role, he has got that option.
As for the Avs, Matt Duchene is still working his way back from a sprained MCL. Defenseman Jan Hejda injured his hand tonight and Tyson Barrie got hurt in San Jose. They’re day-to-day. Patrick Roy also announced tonight that John Mitchell has a concussion. That’s a big loss. He plays the Wild well and is their second-line center.
“This is a good team, a really good team,” Yeo said of the Avs. “Winning their division the way that they’ve gone from start to finish, this is a team that we have to have a lot of respect for. Skill level, very dynamic, very creative, so defensively it’s going to be a challenge for us. With that, they’re an in-your-face team and how we execute is going to be very important, too.”
The Wild can’t get into a run-and-gun game against them.
“We can’t play that type of style against them, there’s no question,” Yeo said. “It’s not one element. This is a very good hockey team and there’s not a lot of areas where you can look at them and say they’re really weak there. They’ve defended well this year, they’ve been very creative and skilled, especially with their forward group. And obviously they’ve had the goaltending, so we’re going to have to be ready to be sharp in all areas of our game.”
“I feel like against them, we have to keep the puck going forward,” said Zach Parise. “That’s where they struggle. When we didn’t do well against them, we tried to do a lot of cross-ice passes and they broke up a lot of plays in the neutral zone. When we did well against them in spurts, we just kept putting pucks behind them and making them turn. That’s when we got a lot of odd man rushes against them.”
I wrote an abbreviated advance on the series in Monday’s paper, so check that out on startribune.com/wild. Also, there’s the game story on Ilya Bryzgalov’s concerning game tonight. Yeo wasn’t concerned, saying, “You look at tonight, and we were brutal in front of him. It’s got to be a team effort. Bryz has done a fantastic job since he’s been here and his teammates have done a fantastic job in front of him to give him that opportunity. That’s the mentality we have to have. It’s got to be top to bottom because [the Avs] have too many weapons over there.”
That’s it for me.
Monday is off. I’ll be on KFAN in studio from 9-9:35 a.m., then I’ll start pounding the keyboard. Lots of playoff coverage coming up in the Star Tribune. I’ll also be on a Podcast tomorrow night at some point on the Denver Post’s site, I believe, with Avs beat writer Adrian Dater.
I’m planning a live online chat Thursday at 3 p.m. CT.