Isn’t it time for Mikko Koivu to punch someone? Or something?
Isn’t it time for Captain Cipher to display a smidgen of emotion, even if he can’t provide a point or make one memorable play?
With an 8:30 p.m. starting time, following a rousing victory at home two days earlier, the Wild’s Game 4 against the Chicago Blackhawks promised to produce the kind of combative play and alcohol-infused crowd response that is the signature of playoff hockey.
Instead, Game 4 turned into one of those mixed martial arts bouts that begins with a flurry of punches and ends with one combatant getting the other into an awkward position and holding on until time, or his opponents’ breath, runs out.
There have been more violent games of Scrabble.
The Blackhawks’ 3-0 victory on Tuesday night at Xcel Energy Center was not the product of the kind of physical play or anger both teams have talked about so much this week. They were simply the more skilled team, and their 3-1 lead in the series is indicative of their edge in talent and depth.
If the Wild was going to make a game out of Game 4, or a series out of its matchup with a No. 1 seed, it was going to need a leader, and what has been established in this series is that the reputation of its captain would have been better served had the Wild missed the playoffs.
Koivu is minus-5 for the series and has yet to score. Asked whether his team needs to assert itself physically the way it did in Game 3, he said “We’ve got to find that again. Obviously, when you’re down and chasing it’s a different game, but you’ve got to find a way to create that pressure and a lot of times that’s how we create offense. We’ve got to put more pressure on them.”
Captain Cipher has given his team less than nothing.
Chicago already had taken a 1-0 lead on a Patrick Sharp goal when Wild starting goalie Josh Harding, playing all series in place of the injured Niklas Backstrom, was injured late in the first period.
With Darcy Kuemper taking over in the second period, Chicago’s next shot, a long wrist shot from Sharp that seemed intended to test Kuemper, went through the rookie to make it 2-0.
That goal, like Sharp’s first, was the result of a turnover by Wild forward Zach Parise, a big part of another mediocre performance by the Wild’s first line.
That first line combines the Wild’s current franchise player (Parise), their former franchise player (Koivu), and their best young forward (Charlie Coyle.)
Other than a slick pass from Coyle to Parise in Game 3 for a goal, that line has produced nothing in this series, with Koivu being particularly invisible. Parise is minus-6 for the series.
“We’ve got to score,” Parise said. “That’s no secret.”
After two periods Tuesday, Koivu, Parise and Coyle were all minus-2. Koivu and Parise were also part of a power play that, to that point, was 0-for-13 in the series.
When the power play reached 0-for-14, the fans jeered. When the power play reached 0-for-15, the fans hardly seemed to notice. The crowd began dispersing after Chicago made it 3-0 in the third period.
Parise has created chances and put shots on net in the series. It’s hard to say what Koivu has contributed. He hasn’t been particularly physical. He hasn’t created scoring chances for his teammates. He hasn’t been effective defensively.
Koivu produced one good shift near the end of the game, with his team down 3-0, putting one shot on net and harassing a couple of Blackhawks near their goal. A couple of minutes later, as time expired, the fans booed their team off the ice.
What promised to be a great night for hockey in St. Paul became the quietest — and dullest — night of the series. Whether on the power play or along the boards, The Captain did nothing to incite the crowd or inspire his teammates. That has become a trend.
Jim Souhan can be heard weekdays at noon and Sundays from 10 to noon on 1500 ESPN. His Twitter name is @SouhanStrib. firstname.lastname@example.org