Wild faces fresh challenge from defending champ Blackhawks

  • Article by: MICHAEL RUSSO , Star Tribune
  • Updated: May 2, 2014 - 9:47 AM
hide

Wild players Matt Moulson (26) and Jason Pominville (29) were among those celebrating — albeit for a short time — after beating Colorado in seven games.

Photo: JEFF WHEELER • jeff.wheeler@startribune.com,

CameraStar Tribune photo galleries

Cameraview larger

– There’s almost an unfairness to the fact that the Wild waited 11 long years to finally advance past the first round again and the team barely had time to enjoy it.

“I don’t mind that, to be honest with you,” coach Mike Yeo said Thursday.

Immediately after its thrilling 5-4 overtime Game 7 victory over the Colorado Avalanche, the jubilant Wild boarded its charter, threw back a couple of celebratory beers and flew in the wee hours of Thursday morning from Denver to Chicago.

After a riveting seven-game, emotional roller coaster of an opening round, the Wild must move on. The Wild spent Thursday trying to refocus its minds and reset for the next arduous challenge ahead.

Friday night at United Center, the Wild turns the page on the Central Division-champion Avalanche and opens the Western Conference semifinals against the defending Stanley Cup champion Chicago Blackhawks — a playoff-tested juggernaut that dispatched the Wild in five games last spring.

The Blackhawks are playing their best hockey of the season. They are rested, too, while the Wild is coming off that grueling physical and mental battle that ended only two days ago. It also enters the series with yet another messed-up goalie situation with Ilya Bryzgalov set to start and Darcy Kuemper once again injured.

For the first time in two weeks, the Wild spent Thursday prepping for a team other than Colorado. The teams play different styles and systems, especially in the defensive zone, where the Avs are one of a handful that play man-to-man defense.

Wednesday’s Game 7 victory was barely over and the Wild coaching staff had the laptops out on the plane prepping for the Blackhawks. After what Yeo called a “solid three hours of sleep,” the coaches spent much of Thursday in a hotel boardroom watching Blackhawks video and devising a game plan. Yeo called a few NHL coaches, but “there’s not going to be an incredible amount of secrets.”

Late Thursday afternoon, before a team dinner, the coaches held a team meeting to talk strategy and to make sure Colorado was in the rearview mirror.

“One thing we have to guard against is just the high of last game and just making sure we don’t have a drop in focus and battle and will that we have to bring to the game,” Yeo said.

Captain Mikko Koivu already began preaching that mantra to teammates.

“Game 1, and it’s going to start from 0-0 and nothing matters what’s behind us,” Koivu said. “I don’t think you can plan a bigger challenge than facing the defending Stanley Cup champions.”

However, the Wild believes it has grown and matured a lot since last year’s inexperienced bunch got smoked in five games in the first round by Chicago. The Wild plays a better team game, is much more defensively sound, has more offensive weapons, more depth and better young talents.

It also enters healthier.

“It’s a different team than we saw last year,” Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville said. “They’ve improved in a lot of areas. Their depth and their skill throughout their lineup is improved and their balance in their team is across the board.

“Last year in the first round, I didn’t know what to expect from their team. But it’s a whole different opponent. They’ve got the excitement of winning a round, the excitement of their town behind them. We feel that this is a very dangerous opponent and we have the utmost respect for them.”

Zach Parise, tied for the league lead with 10 playoff points, believes there’s two reasons the Wild got taught a lesson from Chicago last year: 1) The Blackhawks always had the puck; 2) The Blackhawks’ penalty kill shut down the Wild’s power play (0-for-17).

But the Wild is a much better puck possession team. In fact, according to the advanced stats site extraskater.com, no playoff team has had the puck more than the Wild (61.3 percent at 5-on-5).

“To me last year, we were so flat-footed in the neutral zone and all we did was rip it up the boards, chip it in,” Parise said of the Blackhawks series. “The challenge with them is how mobile their defensemen are. They’re really good at retrieving the pucks and skating it out or getting in there before you’re allowed to get your forecheck going. When we’re playing well, our feet are moving. The way we handle the puck as opposed to last year, it’s night and day.

“We’re attacking off the rush, which is something we didn’t do last year. Our neutral zone transition is a lot better and counterattack is a lot better.”

Last year, the Wild was eaten alive by Chicago’s third and fourth lines. As the Wild proved against Colorado, especially in Game 7, the Wild can score from three or four lines and at a minimum continuously pressure in the offensive zone.

“A lot of times, you have your top guys going head to head with each other and your team needs a little help from the other guys to take pressure off the big guys,” said Kyle Brodziak, who had three assists Wednesday. “Hopefully we can continue providing that.”

The Wild was 3-1-1 against the Blackhawks in the regular season, but Parise said, “the regular-season record really doesn’t matter once you get into these games.

“We learned how good you have to play and how good Chicago is [last year]. They really know how to take their game to another level in the playoffs. It was good for us to see how the champs do it.”



 

  • get related content delivered to your inbox

  • manage my email subscriptions

ADVERTISEMENT

Minnesota 35 FINAL
Miami 37
Baltimore 13 FINAL
Houston 25
Detroit 20 FINAL
Chicago 14
Cleveland 13 FINAL
Carolina 17
Atlanta 30 FINAL
New Orleans 14
Green Bay 20 FINAL
Tampa Bay 3
Kansas City 12 FINAL
Pittsburgh 20
New England 17 FINAL
NY Jets 16
NY Giants 37 FINAL
St. Louis 27
Buffalo 24 FINAL
Oakland 26
Indianapolis 7 FINAL
Dallas 42
Seattle 35 FINAL
Arizona 6
Denver 12/22/14 7:30 PM
Cincinnati
New York 108 FINAL
Toronto 118
Memphis 91 FINAL
Cleveland 105
Boston 84 FINAL
Miami 100
Detroit 105 FINAL
Brooklyn 110
LA Lakers 101 FINAL
Sacramento 108
Philadelphia 96 FINAL
Orlando 88
Phoenix 104 FINAL
Washington 92
Indiana 100 FINAL
Minnesota 96
New Orleans 101 FINAL
Oklahoma City 99
Colorado 2 FINAL(SO)
Detroit 1
Dallas 6 FINAL(SO)
Edmonton 5
Buffalo 3 FINAL(OT)
Boston 4
Carolina 0 FINAL
NY Rangers 1
Toronto 0 FINAL
Chicago 4
Philadelphia 4 FINAL(OT)
Winnipeg 3
Harvard 27 FINAL
Virginia 76
Maine 69 FINAL
Army 72
Ferris State 82 FINAL
Bowling Green 68
San Francisco 65 FINAL
Cleveland State 69
Oregon State 52 FINAL
Quinnipiac 60
Coastal Carolina 72 FINAL
Central Arkansas 55
Holy Cross 48 FINAL
Canisius 67
Southern Miss 55 FINAL
Georgia State 68
Western Carolina 66 FINAL
UNC-Asheville 62
Creighton 58 FINAL
North Texas 62
Maryland 73 FINAL
Oklahoma State 64
Cornell 61 FINAL
Radford 74
Vermont 55 FINAL
Saint Louis 58
Loyola-Maryland 52 FINAL
Stony Brook 67
Reinhardt 72 FINAL
Winthrop 100
Ark-Little Rock 46 FINAL
Green Bay 66
TX-Pan American 72 FINAL
Nebraska Omaha 77
Alabama State 63 FINAL
Evansville 81
FIU 69 FINAL
Hartford 82
Goshen 55 FINAL
Valparaiso 82
Bryant 48 FINAL
Denver 46
Austin Peay 63 FINAL
Lipscomb 69
Tennessee St 47 FINAL
Middle Tennessee 65
South Dakota 67 FINAL
Montana 62
ULM 50 FINAL
Samford 64
Coker 52 FINAL
South Carolina 78
USC 75 FINAL
Boston College 71
Northern Ariz 66 FINAL
Hampton 75
SD Christian 61 FINAL
San Diego 71
UC Irvine 55 FINAL
Bradley 47
Troy 65 FINAL
Nicholls 64
Seton Hall 47 FINAL
Georgia 65
Appalachian St 59 FINAL
Alabama 60
North Dakota St 52 FINAL
Kent State 53
San Jose St 53 FINAL
Washington St 82
Alcorn State 45 FINAL
Texas-El Paso 78
Sacramento St 47 FINAL
Seattle 66
Nevada 3 FINAL
Louisiana 16
Utah State 21 FINAL
Texas-El Paso 6
(23) Utah 45 FINAL
Colorado State 10
Western Mich 24 FINAL
Air Force 38
South Alabama 28 FINAL
Bowling Green 33
BYU 12/22/14 1:00 PM
Memphis
Marshall 12/23/14 5:00 PM
Northern Ill
Navy 12/23/14 8:30 PM
San Diego St
Central Mich 12/24/14 11:00 AM
Western Ky
Fresno State 12/24/14 7:00 PM
Rice
Illinois 12/26/14 12:00 PM
Louisiana Tech
Rutgers 12/26/14 3:30 PM
North Carolina
NC State 12/26/14 7:00 PM
UCF
Cincinnati 12/27/14 12:00 PM
Virginia Tech
Duke 12/27/14 1:10 PM
(15) Arizona State
Miami-Florida 12/27/14 3:00 PM
So Carolina
Boston College 12/27/14 3:30 PM
Penn State
(25) Nebraska 12/27/14 7:00 PM
(24) USC
Cal-Irvine 55 FINAL
Denver 63
St Marys-CA 52 FINAL
George Washington 70
TX-San Antonio 49 FINAL
Nicholls 57
Portland State 71 FINAL
Columbia 66
Tenn Tech 62 FINAL
Morgan State 56
SMU 43 FINAL
Auburn 56
Quinnipiac 70 FINAL
Hartford 58
Hofstra 75 FINAL
Boston College 61
Eastern Washington 55 FINAL
Georgia Southern 42
Liberty 44 FINAL
(1) South Carolina 84
Fairleigh Dickinson 74 FINAL
Brown 79
Buffalo 73 FINAL
Long Island 79
Bucknell 74 FINAL
Mount St Marys 49
Stony Brook 70 FINAL
Wagner 76
FIU 83 FINAL
Wofford 75
Duquesne 56 FINAL
Providence 67
Maine 54 FINAL
William & Mary 51
Alabama State 43 FINAL
Samford 56
TX-Pan American 43 FINAL
VA Commonwealth 64
South Dakota St 64 FINAL
Marist 82
Saint Josephs 50 FINAL
(5) Notre Dame 64
Radford 60 FINAL
Virginia Tech 73
(3) Texas 67 FINAL
(4) Texas A&M 65
Rhode Island 60 FINAL
Bryant 56
South Florida 90 FINAL
Penn State 87
Sam Houston St 55 FINAL
TCU 79
Evansville 50 FINAL
IUPUI 62
(14) Maryland 110 FINAL
Coppin State 51
Mercer 59 FINAL
Coll of Charleston 72
NC A&T 43 FINAL
Chattanooga 58
Princeton 84 FINAL
Monmouth 53
Eastern Illinois 69 FINAL
Lehigh 72
Rider 67 FINAL
Binghamton 72
SC State 57 FINAL
Clemson 66
Fairfield 63 FINAL
Iowa State 76
Richmond 70 FINAL
Eastern Kentucky 56
Cleveland State 80 FINAL
Morehead St 72
Kent State 62 FINAL
Colgate 61
South Alabama 43 FINAL
UAB 73
Saint Peters 35 FINAL
Navy 71
Youngstown St 52 FINAL
Pittsburgh 78
NJIT 50 FINAL
Lafayette 66
Davidson 51 FINAL
Charlotte 86
Indiana State 73 FINAL
St Johns 67
Southern U 49 FINAL
Florida 78
Wright State 46 FINAL
Purdue 70
(19) Oklahoma St 66 FINAL
USC 62
Houston 54 FINAL
Texas Tech 60
Ark-Little Rock 66 FINAL
Tulsa 59
Dayton 71 FINAL
Vanderbilt 67
Northern Ariz 37 FINAL
New Mexico 56
UNC-Asheville 60 FINAL
USC Upstate 67
North Dakota 81 FINAL
South Dakota 86
Western Ill 57 FINAL
Marquette 65
Elon 67 FINAL
(6) North Carolina 85
Ball State 59 FINAL
Western Ky 84
(8) Kentucky 68 FINAL
(13) Duke 89
New Orleans 58 FINAL
Alabama 87
Chicago State 47 FINAL
Milwaukee 69
Bowling Green 61 FINAL
Bradley 47
Ill-Springfield 56 FINAL
SE Missouri St 73
Northern Ill 42 FINAL
Northern Iowa 51
(23) Iowa 100 FINAL
Drake 98
Central Michigan 64 FINAL
Minnesota 67
Western Carolina 45 FINAL
North Florida 62
Wyoming 71 FINAL
Colorado 76
Portland 58 FINAL
Boise State 94
Cal Poly 63 FINAL
Colorado State 65
No Dakota State 54 FINAL
Grand Canyon 69
Albany 71 FINAL
Cal State Fullerton 49
Oklahoma 64 FINAL
Arkansas 71
Idaho State 63 FINAL
Seattle 55
(18) Michigan State 89 FINAL
(19) Syracuse 76
Northwestern 75 FINAL
Arizona State 88
TX-Arlington 46 FINAL
North Texas 38
Fresno State 68 FINAL
Oregon 59
St Francis-PA 75 FINAL
Coastal Carolina 72
UNLV 71 FINAL
CS-Bakersfield 74
UCLA 50 FINAL
(2) Connecticut 86
(10) Louisville 70 FINAL
(24) California 57
Howard 53 FINAL
Virginia 74
Miami-Ohio 42 FINAL
(21) Miss State 68
Illinois-Chicago 55 FINAL
Old Dominion 61

ADVERTISEMENT

question of the day

Poll: Grade the Vikings offense

Weekly Question

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

Connect with twitterConnect with facebookConnect with Google+Connect with PinterestConnect with PinterestConnect with RssfeedConnect with email newsletters

ADVERTISEMENT

 
Close