If he owned a magic wand, Mike Yeo probably would wave it over his players in the locker room before Game 5 and command that they display the same energy and defensive intensity that they exerted in drawing even in their playoff series.
The Wild could do no wrong in Games 3 and 4. The team outshot the Colorado Avalanche 78-34 and allowed only one goal in those two games. Yeo’s players killed penalties with gusto, blocked shots with bravado. They played defense tighter than a straitjacket, which made the young Avs so jittery with the puck that they looked as if they were handling a hand grenade.
The eye test revealed far more about both teams than ever could be discerned by merely scanning the final scores — 1-0 in overtime and 2-1. Those games could not have been more one-sided and would have reflected that reality without some herculean goaltending by Colorado’s Semyon Varlamov.
And so the question now becomes: How does the Wild bottle that up and transport it to Denver? How does it avoid losing what it created somewhere in the Rocky Mountains?
“It shouldn’t matter who we’re playing or where we’re playing,” Yeo said. “We still should be able to bring that in-your-face style.”
Without question, the Wild has been the better team through four games and should be in control of the series if not for a couple of brain cramps in Game 1. What’s done is done though, and the Wild, in an odd way, should feel encouraged about something else related to this series doing an about-face.
Zach Parise has not scored a goal. Neither has Jason Pominville. Nor Mikko Koivu. Nor Matt Moulson.
That group combined for 93 goals this season. So far in this series, a goose egg.
Normally, that would be cause for alarm and put the team’s leaders in the cross hairs. Imagine the narrative if the Wild trailed in the series, or if those players weren’t doing so many other good things, particularly Parise and Koivu.
In this case, a lack of scoring goals shouldn’t be misconstrued as a lack of overall contribution. This is nothing like last postseason when the Wild’s stars fizzled against the Chicago Blackhawks.
Parise leads the Wild in points (five) and shots (19) in this series and has set a positive tone with his energy and hustle. Koivu has collected three assists and been exceptional on faceoffs, winning 64 percent of his draws.
The Wild needs to get more from Pominville (two assists) and Moulson (no points). Pominville led the team with 30 goals this season and Moulson has a track record as a scorer.
“Those guys haven’t gotten the goals, but they’ve created goals [for others],” Yeo said.
That foursome has combined for 51 shots in the series so they’re creating scoring chances. Good chances. Finishing those chances ultimately is what matters, but the Wild has the right plan. Just keep pressuring and throwing pucks at Varlamov and eventually the law of averages should take over, right?
“He’s obviously playing great,” said Charlie Coyle, who leads the Wild with three goals. “We just have to keep at him.”
It might be unreasonable to expect the Avs to keep stumbling around on offense like hikers lost in the wilderness. A team with that much speed and skill generating only 12 shots in a game is rather absurd. Eventually, they probably will start to click again, which means the Wild might need to create more offense itself.
The mark of a good team lies in its depth, and the Wild is certainly in a far better place now than last season. The team has made this a best-of-three series because of its suffocating defense and secondary scoring.
Nobody seems concerned that the big guns haven’t scored yet because they’re contributing in other important ways. And the team is playing its best hockey right now.
“It’s nice to see other guys scoring and chipping in,” Coyle said. “That’s what you need from a team. It can’t just be two or three guys scoring all the time. That’s not a team. We really don’t care who is scoring.”
He’s right. The Wild put itself in position to win this series with its defense. But at some point, the team might need its scorers to provide that extra push.