CHICAGO – In this difficult time for Mikko Koivu, we should all think positive thoughts about him. Like: Maybe he’s hurt.
It’s not Minnesota Nice to wish ill upon people, but this is the best possible scenario, given the way The Captain is playing.
In his first playoff series since he was given the captain’s “C’’ Koivu played like a man unfamiliar with the job description during the Wild’s 5-2 loss to Chicago in Game 2 of the Stanley Cup quarterfinals.
The only way Koivu got his name in the boxscore was by taking ridiculous penalties. Three of them. He finished minus-3, and the details were as telling as the results.
In one stretch of the second period, he took a silly penalty, then missed a chance to score after Zach Parise set him up beautifully in front of the net, then gave away the puck at center ice, leading to a breakaway goal.
As talented as the Blackhawks are, the Wild trailed 2-0 midway through Friday’s game, and trails 2-0 in the first-round playoff series, largely because Koivu isn’t earning his letter.
Whenever the playoffs are over, Koivu needs to cede the C to Parise, the team’s best player and leader. Or maybe that should happen on Saturday.
“They were better, and we didn’t play good enough, obviously, to win the game,’’ Koivu said. “So we just have to do better.
“Obviously, we have to capitalize on our chances. It comes down to that. We’ve just got to be patient with our game and just stick to it. There are chances and they’re a skilled team, they’ve got some talent. We’ve just got to be better in every area.’’
Koivu can be terse after losses. Friday night, he seemed to be floating somewhere between shock and resignation.
Wild coach Mike Yeo, asked about Koivu’s play, said, “I’m going to have a tough time sitting up here saying we were really happy with anyone. This is a team effort, tonight. Unfortunately, it wasn’t a very good one.’’
Strangely, Koivu was more effective during the Wild’s last playoff appearance. While losing in six games to Colorado in 2008, Koivu scored four goals in six games, as the Wild’s best scorer, Marian Gaborik, was shut out.
The Wild’s braintrust loves to defend Koivu by citing all the little things he does right, but the Wild, in this series, needs him to show up on something other than a miscroscope.
It’s a difficult challenge, facing the Blackhawks’ top line, but if the Wild is going to make a series of this, Koivu will need to at least be one of Minnesota’s better players. So far, he hasn’t been close.
Zach Parise continued a season-long trend of putting plenty of shots on net. Through two periods, he had seven shots, two off the team record for a playoff game. (Gaborik had nine in ’08 against the Avalanche.) Parise ranked third in the NHL this season in shots on goal.
Matched against excellent skaters, Koivu often looked stuck in oatmeal. He managed two shots. He won 46 percent of his faceoffs.
Midway through the third period, with his team trailing 3-1, Koivu tripped Jonathan Toews by the Wild blue line. After Marco Scandella’s slap shot made it 4-2 late in the third period, Koivu took a hooking penalty.
His playoff failings continue a trend. In April, when the Wild almost choked away a playoff berth, Koivu managed two goals and two assists in 14 games. He was a minus-6 for the month.
It’s a tough assignment, going up against Toews and the Blackhawks, but captains are supposed to relish these challenges. Koivu has been largely absent.
Although he wasn’t directly culpable, Koivu was also on the ice for the Blackhawks’ last goal, the one that made it 4-1 late in the third period.
At the point of the game when the Wild should have been pulling the goalie and mounting a desperate comeback, it was killing off Koivu’s last penalty.
Maybe Koivu is hurt.
Maybe that’s the best Wild fans can hope for.