It’s weird, but after tonight, the Wild and Avalanche won’t play again until Feb. 7 and not again in Denver until Feb. 28.
These two teams have grown so accustomed to seeing each other, and as defenseman Jared Spurgeon said this morning, Denver almost feels like the Wild’s second home.
“We know where to go, that’s for sure,” coach Mike Yeo said. “We even said that on the way over [to the arena on the bus], it’s going to be weird going and playing somewhere else on the road because we’ve been here so much.”
The Wild and Avs play each other tonight in Denver (8 p.m. CT, FSN, KFAN; the Wild is holding a free viewing party at Xcel Energy Center, where it will show tonight's game on the new scoreboard) for the first time since the Wild fought back from a goal down four times to win Game 7 of the Western Conference quarterfinals in overtime April 30. It’s the second game of the season for each team after the Wild pounded Colorado, 5-0, in St. Paul on Thursday.
But, Yeo’s message again to his team, “Not a lot of thought’s going back toward last year. Not a lot of thought’s going back toward last game. Really just focused on this one.”
Avs coach Patrick Roy will scramble his lines tonight.
The top 3 will be Jamie McGinn-Matt Duchene-Jarome Iginla; Alex Tanguay-Nathan MacKinnon-Daniel Briere; Gabriel Landeskog-Ryan O’Reilly-Dennis Everberg.
On the blue line, Nate Guenin won’t play and Ryan Wilson will be inserted.
Top 3 lines, top 6 D and Darcy Kuemper are the same for the Wild, but Stu Bickel may get in on the fourth line, meaning Jason Zucker, Ryan Carter or Kyle Brodziak would be scratched if Bickel plays. He will at least skate warmups. If Brodziak comes out, Carter would have to slide to center.
Yeo really liked his fourth line of Zucker-Brodziak-Carter on Thursday, so I’m a little surprised Yeo’s thinking of cracking it at least for one night. It didn’t become apparent to me that Bickel may be playing until after Yeo’s availability, so my assumption is Yeo is thinking of playing Bickel because of all the talk the last couple days of redemption for last playoff’s Matt Cooke on Tyson Barrie knee-on-knee hit and Roy telling Denver Post columnist Mike Kiszla, “One day, it might be the opposite. One of our players will hurt one of their guys. And I'm sure everybody is going to be very happy to remind (Minnesota) what happened to Tyson Barrie.”
Kiszla offered this last line in his column: “Free advice to Cooke: Keep your head on a swivel. The first shot of the game might be a fist directed at a lowdown, dirty Wild man certain to be greeted in Denver by a chorus of boos.”
Cooke, with a grin, said he didn’t read the column. Cooke reads everything, so he surely knows what was said by Roy and the Denver writer.
I caught up to Cooke as he walked to the bus after the skate.
He said if the fans want to boo, “That’s up to the fans. I don’t control that kind of stuff. I just have to go out and prepare like it’s another game.”
As for keeping his head up like Kiszla graciously suggested, Cooke said, “I always have my head on a swivel. That’s the way I play the game. I hit guys and I expect to be hit. That’s part of the game and what I expect. Obviously emotions are high and things are said at times, but it really doesn’t have any effect on how I prepare to play the game tonight.”
If you didn’t see my Cooke piece prior to Thursday’s game, here that is again.
If you forgot, go to wild.com, but the last time Cooke was in this building, he was ecstatic in the locker room and greeted every teammate enthusiastically as they entered the locker room following the Game 7 win. Cooke says that had nothing to do with knowing that he would be able to return in Game 4 of the second round against Chicago. It’s because he was so proud of what the team accomplished, especially young guys like Nino Niederreiter, Mikael Granlund, Charlie Coyle and Erik Haula.
Roy just wants his team to play better tonight than it did while being humiliated by the Wild two nights ago. He didn’t practice the Avs yesterday. Instead, they met.
“They were not happy with their performance,” Roy said. “I think it’s important to regroup. We talked about it. We know we’re going to have to compete better than what we did. That was the big difference in that game. They were sharp, they were moving the puck quick, they were first on pucks, they were winning those battles.
“If we compete in front of the net, I think it'll be a lot different tonight -- both nets.
“Tonight, in front of our fans, the start of the game will be key for us. If we can score a goal early, it’s going to help us even more.”
Yeo said, “I’m not going to spend a lot of time sitting around thinking about what to expect from them. I’m just a lot more focused on what we’re going to bring tonight. Our first road game of the year. I want to become a good road team and this will be a good challenge against a team that we know wants to come with a good effort, are going to want to bounce back and wants to have a good show in front of their home crowd.
“Last game is behind us. Last game was last game. This is a different circumstance. We’re playing a different team tonight. We’re playing in a different building. This will be a new challenge.”
Yeo again said he is not worried about playing rookie defensemen Matt Dumba and Christian Folin as a pair tonight. This will be Folin’s first NHL road game.
“Listen, if you’re going to be on our team, then you have to play in tough buildings and you have to play against good teams. We don’t want to have guys on our team that we feel we have to hide. There’s no other way to get that experience except to go out there and deal with it. Obviously we’ll pay attention to matchups like we always do. But there’s no easing into it.”
Niederreiter sat in the same stall he always does in the visitors’ room at Pepsi Center. The man who scored the Game 7 OT winner said, “It’s always a special feeling coming back here. The whole series was such a fun series. I felt like we played some great hockey in this building. We were always very close. And obviously I will never forget Game 7.”
He admitted that while he was on the ice for the morning skate, “a few things came to mind. I like to come here. It’s a great city. It’s a great atmosphere and great building to play in.”
Talk to you tonight on Twitter (@russostrib) and after the game.