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Wild defenseman Ryan Suter, who has battled through an upper-body injury since Game 3, is embracing the pressure of the playoffs. “I’m enjoying it. It’s fun. It’s a learning experience for me,’’ he said.

CARLOS GONZALEZ • cgonzalez@startribune.com,

At 21, Nino Niederreiter already has a Game 7 overtime goal to his credit, along with the winning goal in Game 4 against Chicago.

CARLOS GONZALEZ • cgonzalez@startribune.com,

Wild must dig deep to avoid playoff elimination

  • Article by: MICHAEL RUSSO
  • Star Tribune
  • May 13, 2014 - 4:53 PM

The Wild is conceding nothing.

The objective Tuesday night against the Chicago Blackhawks is the same as it was two weeks ago when the Wild forced a Game 7 against the Colorado Avalanche behind Zach Parise’s career-high four points.

Facing its third elimination game of the postseason, the Wild desperately wants to take this “must-win” contest so it can get a fourth crack at winning in Chicago. A victory in Game 6 would force a decisive Game 7 on Thursday night at the United Center and give the Wild a chance to advance to the second conference final in franchise history.

But whatever happens, all the stress and anxiety that has come this taxing postseason can only help this growing organization in the long run.

“Every day it’s a different emotion depending on how you play the night before or the sleep you get or don’t get,” veteran defenseman Ryan Suter said. “There’s a lot that goes into it. I’m enjoying it. It’s fun. It’s a learning experience for me. I’ve never been past the second round. It’s a huge challenge for me and for our team.”

A continuing story line this postseason has been the strong play of the Wild’s youngsters, from forwards Mikael Granlund, Nino Niederreiter, Charlie Coyle, Erik Haula and Justin Fontaine to defensemen Jared Spurgeon and Marco Scandella.

But it’s easy to forget that many of the Wild’s veterans and higher-paid players are young in terms of playoff experience.

Of the Wild players expected to be in Tuesday’s lineup, only Parise, Jason Pominville, Dany Heatley and Ilya Bryzgalov have experience past the second round. To put that in perspective, 19 players on the Blackhawks roster won the Stanley Cup last season and eight won it in 2010, too.

“You can talk about it all you want, but to actually live it out, it’s huge for everyone — our coaches, young players, old players,” Suter said. “That team over there has won. They’ve been through this, so this is all new for us.”

That was evident after the first period in Sunday’s Game 5, a 2-1 loss in Chicago. The Wild played a solid first period and looked like the team that won Games 3 and 4 in St. Paul, jumping out to a 1-0 lead, pressuring the Blackhawks all over the ice and frustrating them to no end.

But backed into a corner, the Blackhawks punched back in the second and the Wild seemed stunned. It had no pushback before a sixth loss in seven road games this postseason.

Home crowd ready

“I think we like the challenge. We always seem to make things harder than it needs to be,” Suter said. “I don’t know if that’s a good thing to do, but it seems throughout the year that’s kind of been the way we’ve gone about it making things harder. We’d be up three of four goals, then let the other team back in it. That’s how it’s been, that’s how it is now and [Tuesday] is do or die.”

The Wild is 5-0 at home this postseason, so the Wild has confidence playing in front of the rabid Xcel Energy Center crowd. It will have quite the challenge Tuesday because the Blackhawks don’t want to take their chances in a Game 7, even if it would come at the United Center, where they’re 6-0.

In the Jonathan Toews/Patrick Kane era, the Blackhawks are 11-2 in series clinchers — 5-1 on the road.

“To do exactly whatever it takes to [clinch] this series is one of the hardest things in any series,” said Blackhawks power forward Bryan Bickell, who is tied for the league lead with six goals and has seven in 10 playoff games against the Wild the past two seasons. “But I feel we have the confidence and the poise and the relaxation that we don’t get ahead of ourselves and just play shift by shift.”

Another challenge

Unlike the Blackhawks, Mike Yeo said his team is learning on the fly. But he hopes last round’s experience is a lesson. After the Wild’s Game 6 victory, the team flew back to Denver and four times rallied from one-goal deficits to win in overtime on Niederreiter’s snipe.

This is a team that has rallied from 2-0 deficits to even both series this postseason, so it’s used to pressure-packed games.

“It’s a continuation of the challenge you’re faced with in the playoffs, dealing with adversity, dealing with the frustration, the disappointment of a game like last game, another game that was there for us but we just couldn’t push through to find a way to win,” Yeo said. “But that said, the beauty of it is, we have a great opportunity [Tuesday].

“That’s the only thing we should be thinking about. We should be real excited about this opportunity, this challenge, and I believe that our guys are.”

In Chicago, the Wild has been frustratingly “right there, but not enough,” captain Mikko Koivu said.

It would give anything to get a fourth crack Thursday.

“But we can’t think about that. We can’t think about too far ahead,” Koivu said. “Game 6 is our Game 7 right now. We have to win that to get another chance.”



 

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