Fans at Xcel Energy Center celebrated a goal during the Wild’s Game 3 victory. Coach Mike Yeo wants his team’s play in tonight’s Game 6 to be the fuel that ignites the home crowd’s passion.
File photo by ELIZABETH FLORES • email@example.com,
Wild players feed off fan noise
- Article by: RACHEL BLOUNT
- Star Tribune
- May 13, 2014 - 7:43 AM
Mike Yeo expected his players to understand the extra effort it would take to make a successful run in the NHL playoffs. The Wild coach didn’t know that message would spread to his team’s fans — or that they would embrace that task with such gusto.
Yeo thought he had heard Xcel Energy Center at its loudest during Game 3 against Chicago. The spectators pushed their decibel level a little higher for Game 4, helping the Wild move to 5-0 on home ice in the playoffs. Entering Tuesday’s Game 6 at Xcel, the Wild and Chicago (6-0) are the only teams still undefeated at home, and the Wild has held opponents to an NHL-low one goal per game at its home rink.
The coach noted, though, that his team cannot expect a raucous atmosphere to materialize on its own. The transfer of energy goes both ways, with the Wild’s consistently strong play at home inciting a crowd response that inspires it to push harder.
“There’s no question that we feed off our fans,’’ Yeo said. “Every game seems to somehow get a little bit louder, a little bit more emotion in the building. I’m expecting a lot of the same [Tuesday].
“I’m expecting our group to feed off it again, but I think we’ve been able to understand that we can’t just expect things to go the same way when we’re coming home. We went out and we’ve made it that way. We’ve forced the issue; we’ve played aggressive, and that’s what we need to make sure we’re ready to do [Tuesday].’’
The Wild is outscoring foes 16-5 at Xcel, following a season in which it compiled a home record of 26-10-5 — the second-best home mark in franchise history. It has held opponents to 19.2 shots per game at Xcel and has outscored them 8-0 in third periods.
Before this postseason, the Wild never had won more than one home game in a playoff series.
“The building has been electric,’’ defenseman Ryan Suter said. “The fans have been unbelievable. It’s been a lot of fun for us. We’re driving to the rink, and you see the excitement outside the rink, and we just build off that.’’
On the mend
Defenseman Keith Ballard (upper-body injury) and winger Matt Moulson (lower body) both skated Monday. Yeo said he would determine both players’ availability after seeing how they felt during Monday’s time on the ice, but both face challenges to re-entering the lineup.
Ballard, who left Game 4 after he was crushed in a corner by Chicago’s Brandon Bollig, has a history of concussions and missed seven games because of a head injury earlier this season. Bollig’s hit last Friday drew a two-game suspension, and he is not eligible to play Tuesday.
Moulson had one goal and two assists through 10 playoff games before sitting out Games 4 and 5, and the Wild has gotten strong forward play in his absence.
Bryan Bickell’s sixth goal of the playoff season for Chicago on Sunday night came after a regular season in which he had 11 goals and four assists in 59 games. During the Blackhawks’ run to the Stanley Cup in 2013, Bickell had nine goals and eight assists in 23 games after a regular season with nine goals and 14 assists.
During the ’14 postseason, Bickell has been particularly lethal at the United Center, where the Hawks are 6-0, with goals in five consecutive games.
“You get the buildup in the regular season to get to the playoffs and the playoffs are where it really, really counts,” Bickell told the Chicago Tribune. “I don’t want to say the regular season doesn’t count, I just enjoy this time. We don’t practice much, which is good. The city is behind us, our fans [and] just the atmosphere in the dressing room, it gets me fired up.”
• The Wild is undefeated in Game 6 of playoff series played on home ice (3-0).
• Quenneville reunited his top line of Patrick Sharp, Jonathan Toews and Marian Hossa to good effect in Game 5. Monday, he was asked whether high-scoring winger Patrick Kane could join Toews and Sharp on a line combining the team’s top three scorers in the regular season. “We still have that option in our back pocket,’’ he said.
© 2014 Star Tribune