On Monday morning, eyewitnesses saw Wild interim coach John Torchetti challenging his inherited captain, Mikko Koivu.
They said Torchetti looked into Koivu’s face and told him, “I need more from you.” Eventually, Koivu seemed to agree.
Monday night, the captain played a strong all-around game and even scored a goal, his third in the past four playoff seasons, and the Wild beat the Dallas Stars 5-3 at Xcel Energy Center.
The old saying holds that it’s not a series until the home team loses. That’s silly. The team with home-ice advantage can win a Stanley Cup without ever winning a road game.
In this case, Wild-Stars became a playoff series when the lesser team hinted that there’s something thumping beneath the dark green jerseys.
Down 2-0 in games and 2-0 on the X’s scoreboard in the first period Monday, the Wild scored the next four goals, with Koivu giving his team a two-goal lead in the third. For the first time since Game 7 of the 2003 Western Conference semifinals in Vancouver, the Wild rallied from two goals down to win a playoff game
Jason Pominville scored a rebound goal after a powerful rush by Nino Niederreiter. Erik Haula continued to be the Wild’s most dangerous forward, scoring a big goal on a redirection of a Pominville pass. The Niederreiter-Haula-Pominville line produced seven points for a team that had scored seven goals in its previous seven games. And the Wild broke a seven-game losing streak, proving that it wouldn’t back out of the playoffs after backing into them.
“We put their D on their heels for the first time in this series,” Haula said. “We just threw the kitchen sink at them.”
The reprieve begs the question: Did the Wild salvage a modicum of self-respect, or a chance to win the series?
The Wild has won seven of its past eight Game 3s, and there is a reason for that. Usually, the Wild plays a Game 3 at home, and with desperation. That was the case on Monday.
Whether because of embarrassment or Torchetti’s forcefulness or some renewed sense of purpose, the Wild played 2½ periods of inspired hockey.
This continues a trend. In Game 1, the Stars outclassed the Wild. In Game 2, the Wild competed, and the difference was a hackey-sack goal by Antoine Roussel. In Game 3, the Wild overwhelmed Dallas for a stretch, inspiring late-game chants reminding everyone of Norm Green’s breathing patterns.
When Haula didn’t play in Game 1, the Stars were the dominant team. Since Haula returned in Game 2, the Wild has held its own.
“It’s a lot,” Torchetti said of Haula’s contribution. “Just shaking. He just gives us so much confidence on the penalty kill, down low, exit, speed. That line really works well. They complement each other well. They talk on the bench, they make adjustments, they play for each other. That’s why they’re a very successful line.”
Now fans may choose whether to embrace this resurgence or question why a team that is capable of inspired play spent so long playing like it was dreaming of golf courses and lake houses.
“We didn’t get the start we wanted,” Pominville said. “He challenged a few of us.”
“He” is Torchetti, whose direct, eye-to-eye talks with his players succeeded spectacularly when he first took over for Mike Yeo, and seemed to become less effective as the season went on.
Monday, for a game, he saw proof of life. “Our last two periods were pretty good,” Pominville said.
Torchetti talked Sunday about needing the players who wear the “C’s and the A’s” to take charge. With assistant captain Zach Parise out, captain Koivu and assistant captain Pominville played well.
If nothing else, the Wild has made another game at the X matter.
Is this team capable of a playoff winning streak?
That’s not the worst question these players could have heard after Game 3.