Michael Russo has covered the National Hockey League since 1995. He has covered the Minnesota Wild for the Star Tribune since 2005, after 10 years of covering the Florida Panthers for the Sun-Sentinel. He uses “Russo’s Rants” to feed a wide-ranging hockey-centric discussion with readers, and can be heard weekly on KFAN (100.3 FM) radio and seen weekly on Fox Sports North.

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With season on the brink, frustrated, dejected Wild faces one mighty tall task

Posted by: Michael Russo under Wild game coverage Updated: May 6, 2015 - 12:32 AM

Here’s what the Wild’s up against:

This is the 181th time a team has trailed 3-0 in a playoff series. Only four times has a team come back from 0-3 to win a series; 111 of the previous series have ended in a sweep.

Only nine times has a team rallied to get to Game 7 when down 3-0 (winning four, losing five).

The four teams who have rallied to win series are Toronto in the 1942 Finals against Detroit, the Islanders in the 1975 quarterfinals against Pittsburgh, the Flyers in the 2010 Eastern Conference Final against Boston, and Los Angeles last season against San Jose in the Western Conference quarterfinals.

Think the Wild will beat the Blackhawks four straight?

I guess we’ll see if the Blackhawks execute the meltdown of the century.

“Obviously, we know what we’re up against right now,” coach Mike Yeo said after tonight’s 1-0 loss to the Blackhawks.

“Disappointed because we put what, in a lot of ways, we needed to in this game. We fell a little bit short but I thought our guys did a lot of good things. We didn’t get the result that I think we deserved tonight.


“We know what we’re up against, so I’m not going to get up here right now and give a big rah-rah speech. We’ve got to win a game. It’s as simple as that. In all honestly, I’ve never been here before. It’s kind of unfamiliar territory. I guess what you do is try to draw upon previous experiences even though it’s not the same. The only thing I can say is we came back from the dead once before this season, and the only way we did that was with character and belief. That’s what we need right now. The other part of that equation, the reason why we were able to make the playoffs when we weren’t supposed make the playoffs is we were able to look at it one game at a time and that’s obviously what we have to do here, too.”

The Wild has been down 0-3 twice before and swept in one of those. The Blackhawks have been up 3-0 once in the Kane-Toews era and swept the Sharks in that 2010 series.

How do the Wild brush away the frustration and the dejection and all the negative thoughts?

“That’s what we’ll ponder tonight and get ready for [Wednesday],” Yeo said. “I know there’s a lot of character in this room. We’re up against something very tough. It’s not like we’re [down] 3-0 against not a very good hockey team and I know what to expect from them, but like I said, two things, character and belief. There will be no feeling sorry for ourselves. Obviously we’re disappointed to be in this spot, but we’ve got to find a way.”

Corey Crawford did it to the Wild again.

Early in tonight’s game, the Wild had a good start offensively but were turning pucks over again and forcing Devan Dubnyk to make great saves off chances that were way too quality.

Then, Jared Spurgeon was called for tripping Bryan Bickell. On the power-play breakout, Patrick Kane said he yelled for the puck from Patrick Sharp. Sharp’s pass deflected off Matt Cooke’s stick and the puck went to Andrew Shaw on the entry. Matt Dumba way overcommitted to his left, so when Shaw pass to Kane, he was all alone with Dubnyk and shot right between the wickets for his 102nd career playoff point in 102 games.

From there, the Blackhawks pretty much played defense the rest of the night. The third period looked like a 20-minute penalty kill. Crawford stopped 20 shots through two periods and 10 in the third. Pucks missed the net, pucks were blocked, pucks slid just wide.

“I think that was definitely our best game of the series,” said Nino Niederreiter, denied three times. “I feel like we had enough chances to win this hockey game. We played a great game today, just didn’t get the bounces the way we wanted them.”

Jason Pominville, who had that puck roll on him with an empty net at the end of Game 1, again was point-blank with Crawford tonight and missed the net in the second. This after a rush in which he didn’t fire and missed a pass. Crawford is 11-3 against the Wild the past three years.

It certainly seems he’s in our head.

“Crawford, he’s a star against us,” Yeo said. “He’s Brodeur. He’s Roy. He’s everybody against, so we’ve got to find a way to solve that.”

Players were dejected beyond belief in the locker room. As Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville said, this was a “goalie win.”

No moral victories this time of year, and one has to wonder what the heck the Wild has to do to beat the Blackhawks because Kane and Jonathan Toews, they’re going nowhere. They’re just entering their prime, as scary as that might be to read as a Wild fan.

Zach Parise barely uttered words in his postgame scrum after this one, ending things by sarcastically saying when asked to identify what the Wild needs to do better: “Shoot where he isn’t and maybe they’ll go in.”

As so often happens in the playoffs, it’s easy to point fingers when teams lose a playoff round, not win. And the finger-pointing has begun.

Mikko Koivu has no goals in three playoff rounds now against Chicago. Same thing with Ryan Suter. Pominville is not scoring when they need him most. Thomas Vanek, after saying yesterday over and over that the Wild has to play its game and get pucks deep and go to work, did none of that. He stopped just inside the blue line at least a half-dozen times, either turning the puck over each time or missing Charlie Coyle on a drive-and-tap-in attempt.

He has no goals this postseason.

Yeo has lived and died with the vets all year and the same veteran power-play unit most of the year. Tonight, those vets couldn’t get into the offensive zone with the net empty, couldn’t score on a power play, twice with the game having a chance to be tied.

If the Wild goes down, there better be some pretty good self-evaluation this offseason on this strategy.

There was so much dejection and frustration in the locker room – something I sensed Monday – because this team is in this position again and so quickly, one really does have to wonder if the team has it in it to muster the work that will be needed to pull off a win Thursday.

“We have to make sure we play our heart out next game and make sure we get some goals,” Niederreiter said. “That’s the biggest thing, we can’t win if we don’t score and that’s exactly what happened tonight. It’s frustrating but we have to make sure we give it all out.”

Said Yeo, “There’s no feeling sorry for ourselves right now. It’s disappointing where we’re at, but we’ve got one job to do and that’s win a game. Obviously, playing on home ice, as a proud group we want to make sure that we win that game in front of our home crowd and we want to make sure that’s we’re bringing our best game. That’s the only thing we’re thinking about right now.”

Other than winning faceoffs – the Wild got scorched, losing 37 of 59 (Koivu 17 of 28 and awfully big ones to Toews late), the Wild did enough to win other than score.

“The puck possession, the shot attempts were heavily in our favor,” Yeo said. “The scoring chances, we generated a lot of scoring chances. Again, I’m not saying we couldn’t have played better. Against that team there’s a big difference when they score first, it gives them the ability to sit back and defend a little bit more and forces us to, not open up, but it’s a little more difficult in terms of creating some situations.”

Here’s some other excerpts from some press scrums:

JASON POMINVILLE

Down 3-0- “It’s obviously not going to be easy, not the position we want to be in. If you look at the game, we created a lot. We just got to find a way to put one in. We had some good looks, weren’t able to find a way to put one in and they miss a play, get a bounce and end up scoring a goal. That’s the difference. We just got to find a way to put one in and lately we haven’t been getting those bounces go our way.”

Your chance all alone on Crawford- “I didn’t see a replay. You come in, you shoot. You try to score, I guess and I just missed. It was one of our chances that we generated. I thought in the second period we had a lot of looks, a lot of good looks and did a lot of good things; just weren’t able to find a way. That’s the difference in the game.”

Feel good getting looks- “You miss chances, you’re not sitting there feeling happy about missing a chance. It’s obviously frustrating. It’s not fun. But you’re getting opportunities, it’s usually good signs. I think as a team, every line had some looks and again we weren’t able to put one in. You’re not going to win games when you don’t.”

Looking top corner on your chance- “The play happened quick. It’s a shot I like, for sure, and just wasn’t able to pick the corner.”

Crawford shutting off lower part- “Most goalies do, yeah. Most goalies are so good at covering the low part. You’ve got to try to get it up. He’s obviously a big goalie, does a good job at covering the lower part. We got to find a way to put one in. That’s all it is.”

Not able to set up with extra skater at the end- “I think we would have been in, I think there was offsides there and ended up pulling it down and putting it back on our blue line. And at that point, it was kind of tough to get back in. We obviously would have liked to. We had an O-zone draw to try to get possession and keep it in there and get something going. But we weren’t able to do that at that point.”

Generate enough- “Well, I feel like we did. I feel Every line had some looks, every line had some Grade-A scoring chances. We got to find a way to put one in and we weren’t able to do that tonight. Whether its us, or their goalie doing a good job, I don’t know. But if we keep creating like that, we’ll have a better chance to win and tonight just wasn’t one of those nights we were able to find a way.”

Does it become mental against them- “We know that they’re obviously an elite team in the league and they got a lot of firepower. They defend well. They’re good off the rush and you can’t get caught into that run and gun. If you do, they’ll find ways to put it in. But I thought tonight we did a pretty good job. We didn’t hand them many opportunities. Again, they got a bounce and they were able to find a way. There’s not much we could have done different on that play. I guess just kind of a tough break, I guess.”

RYAN SUTER

“Do or die now.”

How tough is this? It [stinks] coming home. Like you said, we had our chances and we were unable to get one by him. They played good, but I thought we definitely improved from the first game and definitely from the second game.

Can you believe you’re in this spot? “Things were rolling for us. We were scoring goals, we were keeping pucks out of the back of our net. Everyone was playing well and now we’re down 3-0. Now we have nothing to lose. We’re going to go out and play as hard as we can.”

0 for 3 power play, including two with a chance to tie? “We’ve been moving it well and getting good looks. We had a couple chances and couldn’t capitalize. It cost us the game.”

Generate enough? “I thought in the second and third we did. First period we were skating good but we were kind of working against ourselves. We turned the puck over a lot and we’d have to come back hard. And that wears on guys. The second period, we stared to play more of an offensive, puck possession type game.”

You’ve been in tough spots before? “We’ve always seemed to make it harder on us than we need to. Maybe this is a good thing for us.”

ZACH PARISE

Could see frustration on the bench, what are the feelings right now:

“Frustration that we couldn’t score. That’s about it.”

Felt like you couldn’t buy a goal. Do you feel like you did enough:

“Well, we didn’t score one so I don’t think we did enough. There’s gotta be something more we can do.”

Change anything in the third period:

“No, same.”

Where do you go from here:

“Win the fourth game. That’s about it.”

Is Crawford that on, standing on his head? Or are you not getting the shots:

“He’s playing well, he’s making good saves.”

Put into words being in this situation after the season you’ve had:

“It’s tough, we’re in a hole. But like I said, just try and get that fourth one and go from there.”

Seen downtimes during the regular season, you draw on that to turn it around:

“We all know what we’ve been through and overcome, but... like I said, we’re in a hole. We gotta reset and try and get that next one.”

Can you identify what you need to do to score more:

“Shoot where he isn’t and maybe they’ll go in.”

DEVAN DUBNYK

 Last TV timeout you looked like you were praying for a goal: “Yeah. I thought we were working pretty good to get one. I was just trying to stay in the game and expect to get a goal and be ready to keep going. Unfortunately we couldn’t get one tonight. But I thought we played a pretty good game. We got some good chances and Crawford played real well.”

Crawford: Play in this league and you’re always going to be playing against a great goalie on the other end who’s capable of having a good game. When you see the game progressing the way it is, you just want to try to make sure they don’t get the second one and keep it at one shot away. … We worked hard to get some chances tonight and unfortunate it didn’t go.”

How dejected is this room: “It’s disappointing. We’re not going to stand here and say we’re happy to be in this situation by any means. We feel we could have had one tonight and it didn’t go our way. All we can do now is go win a hockey game. nobody wants to be down 3-0, but that’s the situation we’re in and we have to win on Thursday.”

Goal against, what happened: “Well, he shot it through my legs. That is what happened.”

That’s it for me. It’s late. Trampled By Turtles’ Midnight on the Interstate is on Pandora. That’s a sign at 12:30 a.m. to pack up and leave, I think.

Talk to you after Wednesday’s availability.

Wild's Chris Stewart won't play tonight; Power outage nearly led to canceled skates

Posted by: Michael Russo under Wild pregame skate Updated: May 5, 2015 - 1:33 PM

The Wild will be without Chris Stewart tonight in Game 3 of its playoff series against the Blackhawks at Xcel Energy Center.  Stewart, who has had a tough playoff with no goals on nine shots in eight games, has a right arm injury. No specifics as to what the issue is and how long it will be. Coach Mike Yeo only said day-to-day.

Also, the Wild nearly scrapped the morning skates here at the arena today and were looking into having them at off-site sites due to a power outage in the area that affected the ice plant. The ice was mushy when everybody arrived today (it was obvious something was up, power was all out at Wild headquarters, the street lights were out). When Yeo walked across the ice for his radio interview, he left footprints in the slush.

Wild winger Zach Parise said after the skate that the ice was fantastic, and so strangely did every player because it was clear they were told not to complain about the ice.

"It was fine," Yeo said. "We’ve got a great crew here. They were thrown a curveball last night, but they did a great job as far as handling it. It was maybe a little bit heavy, but you could tell that it has cooled off a lot, especially since when I saw it this morning and they’ll have it ready to go for tonight."

Happy Cinco de MikeYeo everybody (I stole that from the great @tommydahl on Twitter).

Reminds me of last year between Games 2 and 3. The Wild returned home from Chicago and on off-days in the playoffs, when teams don't practice, the PR guys/ladies trot out four or five players to face the media.

Dany Heatley was one of the Wild reps, walks into the locker room and with that hilarious Heatley tone, goes, "What the $^@&% are you guys doing here? It's Cinco de Mayo?"

It was very funny. You had to be there, I guess.

The Wild looks to avoid digging itself a 3-0 hole to the Blackhawks tonight. This is the fourth time in the past five series the Wild is down 2-0 and third time to Chicago. It came back to win the Colorado series in the first round last year and won Games 3 and 4 against Chicago last year before losing in six games.

In the past four home Game 3s, the Wild is 4-0 and has outscored its opponents (Chicago twice, Colorado and St. Louis) 11-2.

“There’s been a lot of comparisons from this year to last year, but it’s a whole new year," Parise said. "Last year, good or bad doesn’t have any impact on what we’re doing today and how those first two games went. I just don’t think we can expect to come home and play better just because we did it last year, that’s not how it works. We have to be a lot better.”

Stewart was hurt in the second period of Game 2 when Johnny Oduya made a great diving, sliding sweep of the puck to foil a Stewart breakaway. But after doing so, Oduya, while on the ice, grabbed hold of Stewart's right ankle and tripped him to the ice. Stewart crashed hard into the end boards with Oduya landing on top of him.

Stewart left the game cradling his arm. He returned late in the second. Interesting, but third straight year the Wild's trade-deadline pickup has missed games in the playoffs. In 2013, Jason Pominville because of the late-year concussion from Dustin Brown. Last year, Matt Moulson because of an oblique issue if I remember correctly. Now Stewart.

After the no-call by referee Gord Dwyer (it was a clear trip, and even if you think he got the puck first, this exact rule was changed heading into this season as you can read here), Yeo lit into Dwyer during the TV timeout.

This is where is actually gets funny: It was time for the pre-scheduled bench interview with NBC Sports Network's Pierre McGuire. That's taped during TV timeouts and re-aired when they come back for break, so McGuire had to interrupt Yeo's fit on the ref. That may explain to you while Yeo's face was tomato-sauce red during that interview if you remember.

“Of course, at the time, we’re down and so probably a little more frustration at the time that you’re looking to come back in the game," Yeo said. "It’s a scoring chance on the play and he gets banged up on the play, but we didn’t lose the game because of that.”

Jordan Schroeder could at least draw in for Stewart tonight.

"If he comes in the lineup, what he does bring is speed," Yeo said. "The fact that he’s played against these guys this year and he’s actually played pretty effectively against them. Speed on the outside, but certainly what we’re going to need from him and we’ve seen it last game, it’s one thing to try and create but you gotta make sure you’re smart about how you manage the puck. Whether it’s him or anybody in our lineup, we gotta make sure our speed is a factor. But we’re not fast if we’re turning over the pucks.”

Yeo said the lines this morning won't necessarily be the line tonight: Parise-Granlund-Pominville; Niederreiter-Koivu-Schroeder; Zucker-Coyle-Vanek; Cooke-Haula-Brodziak.

It wouldn't shock me if Ryan Carter draws into the lineup.

Niederreiter-Coyle-Schroeder has been a good line this season, so I wonder if Yeo goes with a Zucker-Koivu-Vanek or Pominville line and a Parise-Granlund-Vanek or Pominville line and then maybe have a fourth line or Cooke-Brodziak-Carter. Total conjecture though. Kinda talking out loud, and if you go with my guessed lines, that means Haula's out. Again, not sure.

Schroeder said, "Real excited. It’s not about me or individual. It’s about the team. We have to come out and play a solid game and get a win.

"That’s my game. Speed, speed, speed. I’ve just got to be constantly moving and being responsible defensively but using my speed wide and pushing the D back."

If Carter plays, Yeo said, "He’s a guy that’s easy to root for because of his character and his work ethic, the way he competes, the way he plays for his teammates. I think that you’re looking at a guy who has experience, who has Stanley Cup experience. Certainly that could factor in. We’ve talked about it before as well when we’re making some decisions – the fact that he’s a very good penalty killer for us, that could definitely factor in too."

The ice situation was only a minor controversy.

Said the Blackhawks' Andrew Shaw: "It is still better ice than the [United Center], so guys are excited to play on something like that. ... It was still pretty good to start. It was slushy near the end. But it should be fine."

Chicago TV reporters were asking accusatory questions like the Wild did this on purpose to slow the Hawks down, like the Wild, you know, shut off the power to half of downtown St. Paul and their entire headquarters and all the traffic lights near the rink.

Do you think they're just playing mind games with you guys? Shaw said, "I mean, they had to skate on it this morning, too. That doesn't bother us at all. If anything, it makes the fresh ice for the game feel that much better.

Could it slow down the game? Shaw said, "I mean, it's pretty cold out there right now. I think it should be fast ice. It should be fine.

So no funny business? Shaw said, "No, I don't think so at all. They've got to play on the same ice tonight. It should be fine."

I'll be on KFAN at 5:55 p.m. in front of the arena and on Fox Sports North during the 6-7 p.m. pregame show. The game is on NBC Sports Network with my pal Kenny Albert on the mic.

I'm also doing a podcast at the Liffey at 2 p.m. with columnist Jim Souhan. Our special guest is Wild owner Craig Leipold. Come on down or listen at souhanunfiltered.com.

Check out startribune.com/wild for all our articles today. If you want to know more about Wild anthem singer James Bohn, I did a feature on the Vietnam vet here.

Wild licks its wounds, vows to be better in Game 3 vs. Hawks

Posted by: Michael Russo under Wild practice Updated: May 4, 2015 - 4:17 PM

Afternoon from the Xcel Energy Center press room, where I’m dragging after my early-morning flight back from Chicago.

I’ll be on KFAN at 4:30 p.m. and again at 10:15 a.m.-11 a.m. Tuesday.

I feel like the story I wrote for Tuesday’s paper is one I’ve written once or twice or three or four times before. This is the fourth time in the past five Wild playoff series that it has faced an 0-2 hole, including the previous two years as well to Chicago.

Last year, the Wild won Games 3 and 4 in both the Colorado and Chicago series when down 0-2. It went on to beat the Avs in seven games and lose to the Blackhawks in six.

We’ll see if the Wild can figure out how to repeat history.

“I think the experience is always good when you’ve been through that and you know from the experience,” captain Mikko Koivu said. “A lot of guys have been here for that. But at the same time, you need to create those experiences again. It’s a new year, a new series, so we can’t just think that it’s going to happen. It’s about the preparation right now and making sure we’re ready to go for when the puck drops and play the way we can. We can’t look too far ahead of ourselves. I think that’s what we’ve been good at the last couple months and that’s what we need to do right now.”

The Wild didn’t practice Monday. Instead, coach Mike Yeo had a team meeting and video session to go through the laundry list of mistakes the Wild committed in Sunday’s 4-1 loss. The Wild didn’t play its game, something Yeo and player after player repeated today. Thomas Vanek said the Wild got lured into playing Chicago’s style with the long stretch passes instead of getting pucks deep and going to town on the Blackhawks’ D.

Remember, that’s how it was successful in the first half of the second period in Game 1 when it rallied from a 3-0 deficit to tie.

The Wild got sloppy, careless with the puck and the Blackhawks feasted on the mistakes.

Yeo wouldn’t talk about potential lineup changes today. Remember, he made a few before Game 3 against the Avs last year like throwing Justin Fontaine and Dany Heatley into the lineup and they seemed to have the desired effect. Could we see Jordan Schroeder? Could we see Ryan Carter? Who knows?

Yeo did say he thinks Chris Stewart, who has no goals and only nine shots in eight playoff games, is OK from crashing hard into the end boards in the second period. He returned to the game.

Yeo wouldn’t talk about any players individually today when asked. Stewart has no goals. Koivu has one goal on 11 shots. Vanek has no goals on 15 shots. Ryan Suter is really struggling and is minus-4 in the series.

Vanek, a minus-4 Sunday, was one of the many guilty parties with forced passes. Monday, he said constantly that the Wild needs to get pucks deep. His failure to do that late in the second period led to Patrick Kane’s winning goal with 20 seconds left.

“When we’re on our game, we’re tough to get countered,” Vanek said.

On the lack of goals from himself, Stewart and Koivu, Vanek said, “We’re all three big guys, we have to get more to the front of the net. Sometimes I think – I don’t want to talk about their game, but my game is about setting guys up more than I should. Sometimes I’ve got to take it myself and take it to the net or go to the net more and get those ugly goals.

“For us to produce is to get back to our team game and that’s getting the puck low and getting our D involved and getting pucks on the net and getting those dirty goals.”

Koivu, on if he feels pressure with the lack of goals (none in 13 playoff games against Chicago now), said, “There’s always  pressure, I think, in hockey, in  sports, in general. You can’t think that. You can’t go into a game and think I’m going to score a goal. To me it starts playing good defensively and making sure you do the things you’re supposed to do individually to help the team. The goals will come after that. It’s a lot of things need to happen to score a goal. But if you’re starting to think about that, the pressure and just think about scoring a goal, I’m not a believer it’s going to happen like that. You need to work as a unit and do the right things to get there.”

Yeo said, “The approach that we took right from the drop of the puck was not the right one, and so it was about, we looked at why and tried to figure out why and now is the how. What do we do now for tomorrow. To me, number one, it’s got to start with some excitement. I know it’s frustrating to be down 2-0 but at the same token, the fact of the matter is it’s not like we played our game. If we’re going to be frustrated with anything we should be frustrated with ourselves a little bit here. It would be far more frustrating if we played two good games and came out on the short end. When you look at it, we’re one of eight teams still competing here and so we’ve still got a heck of an opportunity that we have to get excited about that challenge tomorrow.”

  

Asked what the why was, Yeo said, “It’s the way we played the game. It was the way we turned pucks over. The list of things is really long, and the ingredients that go into us being a good team, and the things that we do that makes us a very tough team to play against were missing.”

On playing at home, Yeo said, “I don’t think we should just assume that because we’re coming back home that all will be right in the world. That’s a good team over there and I’m expecting them to come in with a real strong effort tomorrow and I’m expecting a hard game. As much as anything else it’s how we prepare, the thoughts we put in our heads today, as far as how we want to play the game, not the result that we want to have. Obviously, we want to win. We wanted to win last game, too. But that’s the challenge of the playoffs and dealing with the emotions and keeping your focus and preparing to play the game, preparing to do the little things that are required [and] not preparing for the end result because that won’t come unless you do those things.” 

Here’s some excerpts of some player interviews today:

Nino Niederreiter

On if Chicago’s speed has caught the Wild off guard after the Blues series: “It’s a different series, we know they know how to win hockey games and we know how good of a team they are. We gotta make sure we focus on us and yesterday I feel like we were thinking too much about them instead of playing our game and the hockey we know how to play. I think we played the game in their favor and we gotta make sure we bounce back tomorrow and play our game.”

What do you mean by “thinking too much about them?”

“We didn’t get the pucks in deep, we know we have to,” Niederreiter said. “I feel like we had too many turnovers at the blueline and we weren’t sharp enough in the defensive zone. Like I said, we gave them presents; pretty much two breakaways and we don’t usually give any team those kind of chances. That the way we lost.”

You’ve played well with backs against the wall: “We know we have done it before so I feel like that’s going to give us confidence. At the same time, we have to sharpen up in those areas and we have to play smart tomorrow night. We’ll see what’s going to happen after that.”

Jason Zucker “We need to get back to our game. Obviously, Game 2 wasn’t the Minnesota Wild. We didn’t play our game and it’s definitely not good enough. We have to make sure we come out in Game 3 and really play our game and battle hard.”

Did they get you out of your game: “I think it was more us. Our mentality, for whatever reason, from the start, we weren’t doing the right things. We put ourselves in that position.”

“Obviously, it’s our third year playing these guys and we want to beat them but we can’t let that affect us, we have to play our game, whether it’s Game 7 or Game 1, it doesn’t matter, we have to play our game and we didn’t do that last night.”

“We have great leaders in this room, a lot of guys have been through a lot of stuff and really help us out and the older guys really help the younger guys in a lot of different ways. We’re looking to them again, we have a lot of respect for those guys  and confidence in them and they’re really going to help us out tomorrow.”

Thomas Vanek

Responded to backs against the wall: “Yeah, I think so. Before Game 2, I thought for the last three months we’ve always responded pretty well. Last night obviously wasn’t the way we wanted to play the game and now we’re down two. We’ve got to regroup today and be a lot better tomorrow.”

What attribute to sloppiness and mental errors: “I don’t know. I don’t know if it’s because of the way Chicago plays. It’s a different game than St. Louis. They play such a fast, long pass game where I think we got trapped into it thinking we have to play the same way as them to beat them. But we’ve got to get back to our game.”

Do you need to be more physical? “I don’t know if it’s more physical. For us, physical is being down low, working the puck, using our dman. And I think we kind of got away from that.”

Think chicago’s speed caught you off guard after playing big, bad st. Louis? “I don’t know. Again, in the second and third period of the first game, I thought we got back to our game, getting pucks deep and creating chances. For whatever reason yesterday, we were trying those long plays like them and that’s not the kind of team we are.”

With Chicago’s top players producing, do you and your top guys need to match that? “Sure, again for us to produce is play our game. I think their game is those long plays like they showed yesterday. It’s a good team. Give them a couple chances and we saw what happens. For us to produce is to get back to our team game and that’s getting the puck low and getting our D involved and getting pucks on the net and getting those dirty goals.”

How do you, mikko and stewart get more shots? “We’re all three big guys, we have to get more to the front of the net. Sometimes I think – I don’t want to talk about their game, but my game is about setting guys up more than I should. Sometimes I’ve got to take it myself and take it to the net or go to the net more and get those ugly goals.”

What is the demeanor around here today? “I think that’s what we talked about today. I think no one was too thrilled about coming here today, but we knew it would be good to look at our mistakes and kind of regroup from that. we’re down 0-2, but we’re down 0-2 because we didn’t play well. We played our game for two periods out of the six. Again, we have to get back to basics and play our game, get the puck deep and create from there.”

Do you have to play a perfect game against them? “Again, when we’re on our game, we’re tough to get countered. When we try those long stretch passes, that’s when they pick them off and go the other way and that’s not us. we have to come as a five-man unit through the neutral zone and not have two, three guys leaving the zone and try to play their game. that’s what I think we did yesterday and that didn’t work so well.”

Benefit being at home? “For sure it is because when we get the puck deep, the crowd gets into it, puts teams on their heels. Mike had a great meeting today, got us back focused and we’ll be better tomorrow.”

Message in the meeting: “Play our game (laughs). Again, you don’t beat teams by playing their way, especially not Chicago. If you play their way, it will look like we did last night. We have to find our game here quickly and I’m sure we will.”

Sloppy, costly mistakes have the Wild in another 0-2 hole to the Blackhawks

Posted by: Michael Russo under Wild game coverage Updated: May 4, 2015 - 12:58 AM

The Wild felt Game 1 could have gone either way.

Take away a bad game-winning goal and add a little third-period puck luck, the Wild felt it easily could have skated out of United Center with a win.

That was my concern heading into Game 2. The Wild threw away an opportunity Friday, and if it’s true the Wild got the Blackhawks’ attention like Mike Yeo claimed Saturday, you knew the Blackhawks would respond Sunday and play a better game.

The Wild’s response to the Game 1 loss was awful though tonight and that’s why it fell 4-1. You could see it the first five minutes of the game when the Wild was throwing pucks away left and right. The longer the game stayed 0-0 though, I started to get the feeling the Wild may be able to steal a game the way it did so many road games in the second half.

But the Wild’s mistakes with the puck kept coming and ultimately three of the Blackhawks’ long list of game breakers made the Wild pay.

The Wild may be different. The Wild may be more experienced and more mature and all that. But this is a team that still doesn’t have Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane, and if you keep feeding them, they’ll find a way.

Thomas Vanek, fresh off Yeo’s praise from playing his best game in the playoffs in Game 1, was a team-worst minus-4. Ryan Suter, who had a chat with Yeo on the ice this morning, was a minus-3. Chris Stewart, who came back in tonight’s game after injuring his arm in a violent crash against the end boards on a trip from Johnny Oduya, is now goalless in eight playoff games.

Just not good enough from the Wild.

--First goal with the Wild on a power play, the No. 1 unit not only wasted 90-plus seconds of the power play, it gave up a shorthanded goal when Jason Pominville’s wide shot left the zone. Suter picked up the puck outside the zone and casually played it along the wall while looking for Pominville. Future Hall of Famer Marian Hossa surprised Suter by taking the puck, then leading a 2-on-0 with Toews. And even though Devan Dubnyk stopped Toews’ shot point-blank, the puck perfectly lofted in the air and hit the knob of his paddle and just crossed the line.

“First goal, pretty unfortunate the way that ends up going in the net,” Dubnyk said. “Hit me pretty solid and it was frustrating to watch the replay of that puck go off my knob and back in and be across the line because it’s on edge. That stuff happens. We’ve been comfortable being in those situations all year. Tonight we weren’t able to come back.”

--That’s partially because of the next goal.

Plenty of blame can go around on this Game 2 goal, but in Game 1, Vanek doesn’t touch a puck in the neutral zone on a hand pass. He thought it would be a D-zone draw. By rule, it would have been a neutral-zone draw, meaning there was no reason he shouldn’t touch the puck. Twelve seconds later, Dubnyk surrenders, granted, a bad goal for the winner.

Tonight, Vanek has got to have awareness that there’s 25 seconds left in the period and the Wild could get out down 1-0. Instead of getting the puck deep, he tried to pass to Charlie Coyle. The pass didn’t connect. Nino Niederreiter thought the puck would be dumped, so he strayed too far and was offside. Suter thought the puck would be dumped, so he’s well beyond the red line. Just a bad time for so many players to not be on the same page. Unacceptable, really.

Because of the offside, the Wild had to retreat and Suter had no clue that Kane was cherry-picking at the far blue line behind him. Duncan Keith knew though and hit Kaner with a perfect feed for a 2-0 lead with 19.9 seconds left.

Just brutal and another example of poor execution and guys not being on the same page costing the Wild. Again, as has been said over and over the last few days, this is a quick-strike opponent and if you crack the door open the slightest with the littlest mistake, the Blackhawks storm through.

“Can’t happen,” Zach Parise said of the two last-minute second-period goals in Games 1 and 2. “Those are backbreakers. You always grow up learning you don’t give up a goal in the last minute of a period. Those hurt us the last two games. Things like that, they just can’t happen. We can’t continue to do that to ourselves.”

Added Coyle, “Same story. It’s inexcusable. You can’t afford to make those, especially against this team. They’ll bury it every time. … That last minute there, we have to be tight, we have to be strong. It puts a dagger in us. The game’s not over, but it definitely dampens you a little bit. We have to tighten in those areas.”

Now, Matt Dumba did make it 2-1 with a power-play goal 1:20 into the third, but again, a Wild mistake cost them. On a line change, Jordan Leopold tried to hit Dumba. The pass was off the mark, Teuvo Teravainen intercepted it, banked it to Sharp and he buried it as Leopold took an about-face and tried to chase it down from the bench.

The Wild is now 0-8 in Chicago in the playoffs and 3-10 vs. Chicago in the playoffs.

The Wild doesn’t have the finishers to win this series if it plays with the puck the way as carelessly as it did tonight.

That’s plain and simple. The Wild doesn’t have Toews and Kane and Hossa and Sharp. When the Wild gets breakaways, it’s Kyle Brodziak and Stewart (like tonight), and they’re not finishing.

Suter said, “They have some good players and you make mistakes and most of the time it ends up in the back of the net. It’s too bad. When you make mistakes, they make you pay. That’s what happened tonight.”

"They have that killer instinct," Suter said. "Their top players know how to score. I made a mistake on that first one, and it's in the back of the net."
 
"We just to protect the puck," Suter said. "I don't think that was our style of game tonight."

Suter said, “We’re going back home. We have a great crowd. They won their two games. We have to hold serve now and win at home and go from there. For us, we have to focus on playing the way that we played to get to this point. We were trying to run and gun I think a little too much and it cost us.”

Dubnyk said, “We’ll try to keep getting better. We understand that the next game’s huge and we just have to treat it like a big game and just be focused and prepared to play our game and not think any more than that.”

Leopold said, “They have prolific scorers and if you give them an inch, they make you pay. For us, we just have to get to our consistency and get to our game. We showed spurts of it. We gave them those opportunities and we ended up paying for it, It’s unfortunate.”

Here’s Yeo:

“We didn’t make those mistakes. I don’t know what team played that game, but it wasn’t us tonight. It was 0-0 through the midway point of the game. We were doing some OK things without the puck to keep it at 0-0, but with the puck, like I said, that’s not us.” 

SURPRISED? “I think it probably caught us all by surprise. I should have found a way to correct it during the course of the game. It was tough the way we started. That’s on me, but I’m never surprised by anything. I think it is fueled by emotion. I think the way we went into this game, obviously we put a great deal of importance, but when that happens quite often you have to make the sure the focus is right and the focus is on the process. I think we were focused on the goal and focused and the win and not focused on the things we needed to do.”

THEIR STARS BEING STARS: “I don’t really care about them to be honest. I only care about our team right now. They’re a good team and they’re here for a reason. We’re a good team and we’re here for a reason. First game had a different feel to it. This game, like I said, this was not us. The good news is this will be the last time we say this in this series. We’re faced with a similar that we were in last game. We’re coming home so we should be excited to play in front of our crowd, but we have to treat it like a Game 7 right now. We can draw upon the past. Last year we were able to win a couple games and get back in the series, but we have to make sure we learn from this.”

LINEUP CHANGES? “Yeah, we’ll consider everything. It was not a personnel thing. It was a between the ears thing. We’ll use tomorrow to collect ourselves. You have to have to the ability to bounce back, and you have to have the ability to take whatever you can out the game to be better the next game. That’s as simple as I can put it.”

“I’m sure they feel really good. I’m sure they think they’re going to win the series, but I still think we’re going to win the series. I think our team does too. Our confidence is not shaken. We just need to learn from this stuff and try to be better the next game.”

MISTAKES AT END OF SECOND PERIOD: The one thing I’ll say is obviously goals went in the net and we made critical mistakes. There was a lot of plays that didn’t end up in the net where we were making the same mistakes. Those players are going to get credit for that one, but all game long we were doing [bad] things.”

Parise said, “We did make some mistakes. … They capitalized when they had the chance. I don’t remember them having a lot of zone time, so we’re doing well in that aspect. But I thought through the neutral zone we turned the puck over a lot. Have to re-watch everything, but it just didn’t seem like we played a very good game.”

“Years past don’t mean anything. We have to play better. It doesn’t matter what happened last year, the year before. It doesn’t matter. We have to play a lot better than we did tonight,” Parise said.

Parise added, “Just win the next game and go from there. It’s easy right now to look at all the negatives and point fingers. We’re not going to do that. We’re going to stick together and win game 3. That’s what we have to do and then we’ll go from there.”

Wild won Games 3 and 4 last year at home after falling 0-2 against the Hawks. We’ll see if the Wild can do it again. But if the Wild’s best players aren’t bigger and if the Wild keeps coughing up pucks to the Blackhawks’ prolific scorers, there could be a quick, painful finish to this series.

Talk to you Monday.

Erik Haula to make playoff season debut tonight in Game 2; How do you pronounce Granlund?

Posted by: Michael Russo under Wild pregame skate Updated: May 3, 2015 - 12:54 PM

The Wild will attempt to avoid a third consecutive 0-2 series' hole to the Chicago Blackhawks tonight at the United Center.

The big news of the morning is Erik Haula will make his playoff season debut tonight. Scratched in the seven previous playoff games and three of the final six games of the regular season, Haula will play for the first time since April 11 because Justin Fontaine is out with a groin injury.

Kyle Brodziak will move to right wing and Haula will center the line 5-on-5 with Matt Cooke. Brodziak will take some draws on the right side, too.

"I am excited," said Haula, who found out by seeing his name on the board after arriving at the rink this morning. "Like I said yesterday, that’s the only feeling I really have is excitement. I’ve been working hard but it’s not about me. It’s about me coming in and helping. It’s not about what happened before, it’s about this team and playing as well as we can tonight."

Today's Star Tribune coverage:

My advance on tonight's game and the Wild's confidence it can avoid that hole

Jim Souhan's column on Jason Pominville

My notebook on how Haula wanted to play

Blake Schuster's story on former Conn Smythe trophy winner, veteran Brad Richards

Michael Rand's Sunday Q and A with Devan Dubnyk

Coach Mike Yeo had a number of options to replace Fontaine, but Yeo said he wants Haula's speed to be a factor and the ultimate decider was the fact that Haula scored three goals and two assists and was plus-4 against the Hawks in last year's playoffs.

"I’ve said it before, it wasn’t about beating up on Haula at that time," Yeo said of scratching him to start the playoffs. "There were other guys that just deserved to be in the lineup. And we were choosing to only dress 12 forwards.

"But what we’d like to see from him is his speed has to be a factor. The way he’s skating through the middle of the ice, the way he’s supporting pucks, the way he’s challenging the defensemen and pushing them back. But also, more than anything else, it’s his battle level, it’s his defensive game. Those guys are going to be on the ice against good players and they have to make sure they’re up to that task."

Haula was the guy Yeo took out in Chicago on April 7 when Jason Zucker returned, so a lot of this was a numbers game.

But Yeo wants Haula to compete harder, use his speed more, bring energy and be strong in the dirty areas.

Not much else going on.

The Wild is 0-7 in this arena the past three postseasons, "Far more important for me is it would be nice to even up the series and go back to Minnesota with home-ice advantage. I think obviously it would go more from a big disadvantage to a little bit more of an advantage in our favor. I’m not getting caught up in all that stuff. Most important is just to make sure that we’ve got the right focus coming into the game. That’s when we’re at our best when we’re focused on our process. We know how important that end result is to us, but how do we go about trying to obtain it – that’s got to be our focus right now."

Charlie Coyle also said the Wild's not intimidated by the giant arena, loud fans, etc., etc.

“It’s not even a factor," Coyle said. "We clinched a playoff spot in this building a week or two ago, so it’s really just a mindset coming in, clearing your mind, coming in and saying ‘we’re a good team here.’ We’ve been good on the road of late and we’ve got to carry that into it. We’re not focusing on that too much. It’s a new game, a new day and we’ll treat it as that.”

One area the Wild has to pay attention to is how quickly the Blackhawks counter, not even after turnovers, but shots on goal. I haven't seen a team so good at turning a shot on goal or blocked shot into a rush in a snap.

Devan Dubnyk mentioned that yesterday, in fact.

I asked Yeo about that this morning. How do you guard against this? "I think there’s a couple things – one you have to make sure that when you have an opportunity to shoot the puck, you’re getting it off quickly. Especially their defensemen, they like to front a lot of shots which leads to a lot of blocks and those blocks are in pretty good structure and position where they can counter attack from that. It’s the recognition – we still have to shoot pucks. It’s not like we can all the sudden just be afraid to shoot pucks. We have to make sure we’re getting pucks there. And if we do get it by them, we’ve seen a few pictures already where we are in behind their defensemen and we’re all alone with the goalie where we can create an advantage if we get it off a little quicker and do get it to the net. If that’s not there, the recognition of making sure we’re not forcing it – that’s actually how we scored our first goal of the game. we didn’t have a play to the net and their defensemen were coming up and we were able to get that puck down low and establish some puck control from there."

Zach Parise said, "We learned a lot from that first game. We want to come out and establish our pace right away, play the game we want to play and just try and win the first period.”

Parise also talked about the progression of Mikael Granlund's game: "Since I’ve been here it’s been pretty impressive. He really came into his own last year in the second half of the year and the Olympics. despite a couple of injuries he’s had he’s played some really good hockey. He competes hard, he’s fast, he’s good at carrying the puck through the middle and that really helps out his wingers when he’s able to skate up the middle of the ice and kick it out to the sides, it gives us a little extra room.”

BY THE WAY, the great Doc Emrick has been getting lit up by some of you by the way he pronounces Mikael Granlund, like GRAHNLOOND. That's actually correct. We asked Granlund today and that's how it's pronounced in Finland. We all Americanize it and frankly he said, "The thing is, I don't really care. You need to ask my mom."

Emrick told Granlund, "The good thing is it doesn't affect your play one way or the other." Granlund said, "Exactly. Who cares?"

Dubnyk is looking to rebound.

Here's some of his comments from this morning:

Sticking to their game plan no matter what: “We’ve done a good job of rolling along here regardless of what happens. Game 5 against St. Louis they got a power play goal in the first 10 minutes of the first period and we didn’t sow down, we stuck to the plan and ended up taking that game. We certainly want to try and get a lead but we understand that we need to chip away and stick to our game regardless of what happens.”

On getting a split, and ultimately winning the series: “We have to believe in ourselves and in our game plan and realize that we’re fully capable of winning a game, not just hoping to win it. We feel that if we keep getting better we’ll have some success.”

His first playoffs: “It’s been a lot of fun. Exciting times. I’m happy that we had the opportunity in the few months leading up where every game was so meaningful and we really needed it to get that experience of parking games, win or loss, forgetting about them and moving on to the next one. That was so important down the stretch. Not having playoff experience, that experience down the stretch has really helped me so far.”

Playing in the hostile environment of the United Center: “It’s a different challenge. You know that if they’re yelling at you and giving you a hard time it’s usually because you’re doing a good job. This has always, right from when I first came into the league, one of my favorite places to play. It’s such a great atmosphere and always an exciting game to play. You always know you’re in tough against this group. Hopefully I can create some good memories here.”

Coming back in games: “You try not to think too much about the situation. You don’t think about needing to score three goals, you think about getting to your game. It was really impressive the way we came out in the second period and started playing exactly how we want to play, using our speed as much as we can.”

Wild’s ability to bounce back after a loss this season: “It’s not thinking about losing back to back games. Not approaching it as a bounce back game, We’ve been so good down the stretch at approaching and preparing for every game, whether it’s a five or six game win streak or we’ve lost one. We just prepare the next game the exact same way. It’s important, when you have a group in here that’s as good as we are, that you don’t change anything. You think about bouncing back or needing to come out with a great effort. We know the effort we want to give every single night and we just continue with that regardless of what happened the game before.”​

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