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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Posts about Wild practice

Here we go again: Another do or die for the Wild

Posted by: Michael Russo Updated: May 12, 2014 - 6:02 PM

It’s déjà vu.

Two Mondays ago, the Wild faced the old sports’ do-or-die, must-win situation when it hosted the Colorado Avalanche in Game 6 down 3-2 in the best-of-seven Western Conference quarterfinals series.

Zach Parise scored two goals and two assists in the Wild’s win to force Game 7, and you know the rest.

Tuesday night, at an overstuffed Xcel Energy Center, the Wild will face the same scenario against the Chicago Blackhawks.

Win, force a Game 7 at 7 p.m. Thursday at the United Center. Lose, seeya in September.

The Wild had an optional practice in St. Paul today and of the players we saw, guys like Mikko Koivu and Ryan Suter and of course Mike Yeo, spirits were good and the demeanor was confident, especially since Game 6 will come at home, where the Wild is 5-0 and has outscored Colorado and Chicago 16-5.

Of course, the Blackhawks don’t want to take their chances in a Game 7. The Blackhawks are 11-2 in clinching games in the Jonathan Toews/Patrick Kane era, an era that has had a modicum of success.

Not much going on news-wise:

Chicago’s Andrew Shaw will miss his fifth game this series.

Matt Moulson and Keith Ballard skated today for the Wild.

Asked if either could play Tuesday, coach Mike Yeo said, “I wouldn’t be surprised, no, so like I said, we’ll see how the skate goes out here today and obviously, we’ll use that as a determination as to whether these guys are available for tomorrow.”

I’d be surprised if Moulson played simply because -- who comes out? Won’t be any of the top-6 forwards. I wouldn’t think it would be for Justin Fontaine. I can’t imagine it’d be for Dany Heatley and Cody McCormick, to me, has been very good.

And Ballard, I haven’t spoken to him, but his head hit the glass fairly hard in Game 4.

Here’s some quotes from today.

Mike Yeo on home ice: “There’s no question that we fed off our fans. We’ve asked our players to step their games up as the playoffs have gone on and it seems like our fans have bought right into that too, because every game seems to somehow get a little bit louder, a little bit more emotion in the building. So, I’m expecting a lot of the same tomorrow. I’m expecting our group to feed off it again, but at the same time, I think that we’ve been able to understand that we can’t just expect things to go the same way when we’re coming home. We went out and we’ve made it that way. We’ve pushed the issue. We’ve forced the issue. We’ve played aggressive and we’ve played, and that’s what we need to make sure we’re ready to do tomorrow.”

Ryan Suter was peppered with questions today. He was real good, which you can read in Tuesday’s paper.

But here’s some good color:

On the Wild always making life difficult on itself: “I think we like the challenge. We always seem to make things harder than it needs to be. I don’t know if that’s a good thing to do, but it seems throughout the year that’s kind of been the way we’ve gone about it making things harder. We’d be up three of four goals, then let the other team back in it. That’s how it’s been, that’s how it is now and tomorrow is do or die.
 

On how banged up players are: “I think it’s mental. Every single guy in that locker room every single guy in their locker room has issues right now. But it’s a mental thing and you have to overcome that if you want to win, that’s why it’s the hardest trophy to win in the world.”

I asked if how bad his “issue” (from his collision with Marian Hossa in Game 3): “They’re alright.”

Unspoken rule to play through injuries in the playoffs: “You hear stories about the guys that have won before and the things that they go through. I think that’s why it is so hard. That’s why it’s so fun to be a part of because you know the reward at the end.”
 

On home ice, Suter had a funny line: “The atmosphere. The building has been electric. The fans have been unbelievable. I’m sure they’re having a good time with the late starts (smiles). Everything, it’s been a lot of fun for us. We’re driving to the rink and you see the excitement outside the rink, and we just build off that.”

You tired? “It’s mental. I’m sure when it’s all done, time for some rest. It’s mental. I’m excited. I want to win. Everyone in that locker room, we keep pushing each other. There’s no time to be tired right now.”

Of course, we circled back around to what’s wrong with him.

Colleague Chip Scoggins asked him if his shoulder is screwed up. “My shoulder’s not,” Suter said.

So of course, I chimed in, “Elbow?”

“I’m feeling great (laughing),” Suter said, before looking at PR guy Aaron Sickman for the all-clear that he could leave the front of the backdrop.

Was a funny back and forth.

Similarly, I basically asked Mikko Koivu is his ankle is still an issue: “No, it took obviously a lot longer than I thought when we talked about it, but now it’s been good.”

OK, that’s it for me. I came right to the arena from the airport and would love to get home. Talk to ya after the morning skates Tuesday. I’ll probably be on KFAN in the morning at some point.

Wild youngsters soaring this postseason; El Nino on kissing Bryz; Bollig suspended

Posted by: Michael Russo Updated: May 10, 2014 - 6:10 PM

Afternoon from the friendly sky, where I’m taking a quick hop over to Chicago for Game 5 between the Wild and Chicago Blackhawks on Sunday (8 p.m., CNBC, KFAN).

The Wild and Blackhawks mostly had the day off. The Wild had an optional but a good amount of players were around. The Blackhawks made coach Joel Quenneville, Marcus Kruger and Michal Handzus available, so slim pickings.

Coach Q said Andrew Shaw (lower body) is unlikely to play Game 5.

Similarly, coach Mike Yeo said Keith Ballard (upper body) and Matt Moulson (lower body) didn’t made the trip to Chicago. Ballard, two games after returning from two months off with a groin injury, was hit from behind by Blackhawks forward Brandon Bollig, who got away with a head shot in my opinion on Zach Parise in the final regular-season meeting.

The NHL’s Department of Player Safety got him this time, suspending him for two games. Not sure if that helps the Wild or not. 

Yeo said that Nate Prosser will likely slide back into the lineup. The other option is Jon Blum, who played well down the stretch for the Wild when Clayton Stoner and Ballard were both out at the same time.

The Wild improved to 5-0 at home with last night’s 4-2 victory to even up the series. It has outscored opponents 16-5 at home, holding Colorado and Chicago to an average of 19.6 shots per game. The Blackhawks are 5-0 at home, having outscored opponents 20-7.

The Wild is 1-5 on the road, having been outscored 26-17. As we learned last round against the Avs, even though the Wild held a third-period lead and nearly won Game 5, it took its foot off the gas and lost. That put the pressure back on Minnesota, and the Wild had to win Game 6 at home and Game 7 on the road in order to advance to its first second round in 11 years.

By winning two games at home, the Wild has turned the momentum in the series. The players and coach Mike Yeo know that can easily change with a road loss on Sunday night. On the other hand, if the Wild can sneak out a big ‘W’ at the United Center against a Blackhawks team that is clearly frustrated right now, the Wild will put itself in position to win the series at home Tuesday in front of its raucous crowd in an arena where it has been dominant all postseason.

“Thinking back to Games 1 and 2, I said at that time, it’s not like we were that far off,” Yeo said. “We knew we could play a little bit better and I think we’ve picked our game up since then. Certainly when you look back to those two games, there were parts of it that were going well and then it was a big mistake that came back at us. I think we’ve cut down on our mistakes the last couple games and we have to make sure that we bring that in there. But with that, there’s been sort of a little bit more of an aggressive mindset in how we executed the last couple games and that’s allowed us to get on the attack a little bit more. It’s a fine line. We have to make sure that we’re playing smart, but we can’t be playing safe. We’ve got to take that attitude into their building.”

Big game, to say the least, which is why Yeo spent the afternoon reminding his team not to let its guard down. It’ll be a challenge, but the Wild has to somehow figure out a way to carry the same type of game it has played all playoffs long at home and carry it into the Windy City.

“It’s a huge game,” Dany Heatley said of Sunday. “But I don’t feel the vibe in here that we’re too confident or over-cocky right now. We know they’re a very good team, they play well in their rink. We’ll be prepared for that.”

The Wild continues to get tremendous play from its youngsters. From the Wild game notes, the five youngest forwards -- Wild rookies Erik Haula (23) and Justin Fontaine (26), playoff rookies Nino Niederreiter (21) and Mikael Granlund (22), and sophomore Charlie Coyle (22) – have combined for 13 goals (Granlund, 4), 27 points (Coyle/Granlund, 7), 81 hits (Niederreiter, 31) and 27 blocked shots (Granlund/Haula, 10).

“They’ve been great,” Heatley said. “Obviously a huge reason why we’re here. They've been great for us all year. Whatever role they’ve played, they’ve done a great job. Awesome to see the success there having in the playoffs. They’re all real good kids, they work really hard, and it’s been a lot of fun to be around them.

“I think everyone needs to step it up to win games in the playoffs. I thought towards the end of the year those guys got better as did our whole team. We went into the playoffs playing pretty well and those guys have taken it to another level.”

We always talk about the youngsters, but we rarely include Jared Spurgeon because he has been around for four years. But he is 24 and he has been dynamite since the first couple games of the playoffs. Look at the skill plays he made last night, having his head up to make the stretch pass to Coyle for the Niederreiter winner, the settling of Mikko Koivu’s pass and the patience to score the power-play goal.

“I think as we’ve asked our team to get better, he’s taken his game to another level,” Yeo said. “This is a guy that we have so much respect for as a coaching staff. Not just the way that he executes, the poise that he has, his ability to create offense with his execution, but he’s a very good defender. He’s got a great stick, he’s very smart, he’s a great skater and he’s sneaky strong. He’s a huge part of our team but again to see where his game is at right now obviously offensively this time of year especially playing against a team like this, you need some offense from your defensemen, you need to create some offense from secondary guys whether that’s from your defense or whether that’s from third or fourth line guys. If you’re going to have any success, guys like that are usually stepping up.”

And then there’s Niederreiter, who is coming of age this postseason.

It seemed to start in Game 6 last round.

“I remember that game that even his first period was sort of OK, but then something just flipped,” Yeo said. “He flipped a switch there, and it was just an opportunity for us to say OK, there it is, that's the blueprint for what we need night after night. It's been a work in progress, but certainly that game, for me, was one where obviously, he played a great game, had all of the heroics of the Game 7, but for me, a lot of that started in Game 6.”

In Game 7, on Spurgeon’s tying goal that he set up, Niederreiter gave Spurgeon a kiss on the helmet. Last night, after Ilya Bryzgalov made back-to-back huge saves in the third to rob Jeremy Morin and keep the lead at 4-2, Niederreiter similarly pecked Bryzgalov on the helmet.

Photo courtesy of Star Tribune photographer Carlos Gonzalez

“Yeah, that was such a big save. I was just so happy,” Niederreiter said, smiling. “It happened so quickly. Just being thankful I guess. I did that to Spurg when he scored the tying goal in Game 7. It’s silly but you appreciate stuff like that.”

The Wild leads the NHL with 16 goal scorers this postseason. Quite amazing for a team that lacked scoring depth during the regular season.

"Are you saying that we didn't see it during the year?" Yeo said, laughing, when I asked in probably a bewildered tone. "I feel like we're all improving. Everything's kind of cyclical, there's no question, but everybody's going out, everybody's contributing in the same way, but they're all doing it in their own way, too. The roles have been identified, guys have really bought into them, but just the team game, I think we've been very strong in that regard. Like we've asked of our guys, we've gotten better as a team, and that's what we want to keep doing here."

Talk to you after the morning skates Sunday. Enjoy your weekend.

Matt Moulson injured, and why do Wild teammates call Mikael Granlund, "Bruuuuuuce"

Posted by: Michael Russo Updated: May 8, 2014 - 2:04 PM

Well, my speculation was correct that Matt Moulson will be the guy out when Matt Cooke returns Friday night in Game 4 from a seven-game suspension.

But the reason, Wild coach Mike Yeo says, is because Moulson has been battling through a lower-body injury for some time. Moulson didn’t practice Thursday and will be kept off the ice for a few days “at least,” said Yeo, and the hope is the team can get him back later in this series.

No other lineup changes are expected from the Wild. Same lines as Tuesday, except for Cooke sliding into his old third-line spot next to Erik Haula and Justin Fontaine. Keith Ballard looks like he’ll play a second game in a row and Nate Prosser will be scratched.

The Wild trails 1-2 in its series against Chicago. Last year against the Hawks, the Wild won Game 3, lost Game 4 at home and was promptly lost the series in five. The Wild knows the importance of Friday night's 8:30 game. The time for Game 5 will be determined after Friday's Rangers-Penguins game. If the Pens win, the Wild and Hawks are expected to play in the early evening Sunday. If the Rangers win, the Wild and Hawks may get another 8:30 p.m. start.

Wild defenseman Ryan Suter is fine. He said Marian Hossa landed on his arm weird and it just started burning. He was very worried (said it was scary), but he obviously returned to play almost 10 minutes in the third, sprung the 3-on-2 that led to the Zach Parise to Jason Pominville to Mikael Granlund tic-tac-boom goal and assisted on Parise’s power-play goal when Parise lifted his stick to signal to Suter that he had net-front position.

“Everyone played better in the third,” said Suter.

On the importance of tomorrow’s game, coach Mike Yeo said, “We’ve given ourselves a chance to even the series up and to go back to Chicago and hopefully put a little bit of pressure on those guys. We know that they recognize the importance of the game as do we. With that, our mindset I think more than anything else is, we know that there is another level to our game that we can get to. We’re still focused on that. Obviously happy that we won the last game, but we’re determined to get better in the series and in this next game. We’re going to come out with a real purpose in how we play. We have to stay strong defensively, but I know that there is another level that we can get to with the puck and how we execute, in particular from coming out of our D zone and through the neutral zone. And I really think that we can still do a better job of putting some more pressure on their goalie, not only shots and getting them through, but the amount of times we have guys around the net and traffic around the net.”

As for Chicago, Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville said Andrew Shaw (lower body) won’t make the trip. Coach Q – the ultimate line shuffler – came up with four brand new ones today.

Bickell-Toews-Smith

Saad-Kruger-Kane

Sharp-Handzus-Hossa

Bollig-Nordstrom-Morin

"We're looking for balance and maybe all lines, a little more threat to score on all the lines,” Quenneville said.

Hometown kid Nick Leddy, scratched in Game 3, will be back for Game 4.

On scratching players, Q said, “Sometimes it gets their attention. It’s never personal. It’s hey, let’s go. We’re trying to find ways to get the most of each and every individual. That’s kind of where we’re at in that situation.”

Said Leddy, the Wild 2009 first-round pick who had played 296 straight games for Chicago before being scratched, “I think any competitor would get ticked at that. Like I said, I don’t think I was playing the way that coaches wanted and it was a coaching decision. I’ve got to be better.”

I’m doing a story for Friday on what to expect in Game 4. Despite the fact the hockey world always blames the Wild for games when the neutral zone is cobweb-like, it was very clear Game 3’s tone was set by Chicago. The Blackhawks, after seeing Games 3 and 4 against Colorado, came up with a gameplan to sit back early and try to weather a furious storm and take the crowd out of it. Then it suddenly became a chess match until the first goal was scored thankfully early in the third.

“Of course we’re going to be blamed for that. I mean, it’s the high-flying Hawks. Of course, it’s going to be us,” Parise said, sarcastically. “Show me a team in the NHL that doesn’t play a trap and I’ll call you a liar because every single team does it. Whoever does it the best, then they get called a defensive team. I don’t agree with that. Every single team plays a trap.

“Last game, the ice was bouncy. There wasn’t a lot of flat plays through the neutral zone and I think both sides were somewhat getting frustrated because you couldn’t get it through clean. So then all of sudden you just try to stretch pass and chip it in and skate. They did the same thing to us that we did to them. It wasn’t like we were playing an 0-5 [defensive system] all game.”

Also, Dusty Peterson, the Wild’s videographer, produced another cool postgame Game 3 celebration video for wild.com the other day. Here's the link.

At the end of the video, when Granlund walked into the room, teammates started calling him, “Bruuuuuuce.”

I got a hundred tweets yesterday asking why. Slowly but surely, I figured it out. Basically, pretty much every player has a “stupid, random” nickname, one player told me. This player suggested I may want to talk to Parise for the “Bruce” genesis with a little friendly head-up as to what I should probably ask.

As it turns out, well worth it.

Players call Parise, “Brinks,” as in “Brinks” $$$ trucks. Mike Rupp brought it to the Wild from New Jersey, where Parise and Rupp were teammates.

“One day we’re sitting at breakfast and I was walking away and Granny called me, ‘Springs,’” Parise said, laughing. “I’m like, ‘What did you call me?’ He goes, ‘Springs.’ I go, ‘What is that?’ He goes, ‘Isn’t that what everyone calls you?’ I go, ‘No, no, they call me Brinks.’ He goes, ‘Oh, I thought it was Springs, like Bruce Springsteen’ [because I played in New Jersey],” Parise said, hysterically laughing.

“That’s how nicknames get started. We started calling him Bruce. He does not look like a Bruce at all, so that’s what makes it better.”


MINNESOTA WILD, MINNESOTA HOCKEY, CCM, TOTAL HOCKEY AND CHARLIE COYLE LAUNCH LITTLE WILD LEARN TO PLAY PROGRAM
 
    SAINT PAUL, Minn. – The Minnesota Wild, Minnesota Hockey, CCM, Total Hockey along with Wild forward Charlie Coyle today announced the Little Wild Learn to Play program, a new initiative designed to introduce the game of ice hockey by overcoming affordability barriers that typically limit involvement at the beginner level in an effort to increase participation in youth hockey and grow the game.
 
    The inaugural program will kick off in September, when nearly 500 youth will have the opportunity to participate at one of eight arenas across the State of Hockey, with plans to grow and expand it each year. Each participant will be outfitted with gear from head-to-toe and receive four hours of professional on-ice instruction for $100. The program will also promote the importance of regular exercise, team work, and developing leadership skills all while having fun experiencing the game of hockey.
 
    “It’s our mission to continue creating a greater State of Hockey, so today we are thrilled to be launching the Little Wild Learn to Play program,” said Minnesota Wild Chief Operating Officer Matt Majka. “We are truly thankful to our partners Minnesota Hockey, CCM and Total Hockey who have not only made this program possible, but will help us take it to the next level.”
 
    Registration for Little Wild Learn to Play will begin on May 27 on Wild.com on a first-come, first-served basis for children age five to eight. The program is open to those who have not already participated in Mite Level hockey programs. Children with any previous hockey league or program experience are not eligible to participate in the program.
 
    The program will include professional instruction by licensed USA Hockey and Minnesota Hockey instructors. Wild forward Charlie Coyle will participate as a guest instructor at select sessions. Each participant will receive co-branded Little Wild and CCM equipment including skates, hockey bags, jerseys, helmets, gloves, pants, pads, socks and sticks. The cost of the program includes all equipment and four hours of on-ice instruction. If not enrolled in the program, the Little Wild equipment will still be available through CCM at Total Hockey locations for $200.
 
    “I’m excited to be a part of the Little Wild program,” Coyle said. “I have great childhood memories from playing the game and it’s obviously had a really positive influence on my life. I want to do whatever I can to share this great sport with others, especially kids, and continue growing the game.”
 
    “Minnesota Hockey is very much looking forward to the first-ever Little Wild Learn to Play program,” said Glen Andresen, Executive Director of Minnesota Hockey. “This program will help extend our efforts to introduce more families to the great game of hockey around the state, who want to give the sport a try at an extremely low cost. This will have a huge impact on growing the game and supporting our local community-based associations. We are so thankful for the support of the Minnesota Wild, CCM, Total Hockey and Charlie Coyle.”
 
    “We're excited to partner with the Wild, Minnesota Hockey and Total Hockey on this outstanding program,” said Reebok-CCM Hockey trade marketing executive Bob Fallen. "We're involved in ‘Little NHL’ programs in other U.S. cities which have enjoyed great success in welcoming families to the sport of ice hockey. Seeing these young players take to the ice for the first time in our gear is a real thrill.”
 
    “No sport can match the benefits that hockey provides our youth in terms of fitness, character, discipline and teamwork. We appreciate the opportunity to give back to our local Minnesota communities by providing wider access to this great game,” said Michael Benoit, President and CEO of Total Hockey.
 
 
Little Wild Learn to Play Locations and Times available at
http://www.wild.com/littlewild
 

Wild offday: Matt Cooke speaks

Posted by: Rachel Blount Updated: May 7, 2014 - 1:24 PM

Wild winger Matt Cooke, who is expected to rejoin the lineup for Friday's Game 4 against Chicago, spoke to the media at Xcel Energy Center on Wednesday for the first time since beginning his seven-day suspension. Cooke was punished for a knee-to-knee hit on Colorado defenseman Tyson Barrie in Game 3 of the Wild's first-round series against the Avalanche.

Coach Mike Yeo said he expects Cooke to play in Game 4, but has not made any decisions about who will come out of the lineup or who Cooke's linemates will be. Cooke, whose suspension was the sixth of his career, said it was tough to watch the games from the stands. He expressed gratitude to his teammates for advancing to the second round, allowing him to jump back into the playoffs, and said he has been skating daily to stay ready.

Cooke would not address questions about why he chose not to appeal the suspension. He said he understands some people are going to believe he still is a dirty player, but he seemed resigned to that fact.

"People are entitled to their opinions,'' he said. "Everyone's going to have them. It's not my job to go out and change people's opinions. My job is to go out and play the way I can and be successful helping my teammates win. All I can do is go out and play the way I play, build the stats I've built over the last three years within my game, and the rest will take care of itself.''

Cooke spoke frequently about the work he put in over the past few years to remake his game. He said he is "in a good spot'' in terms of his commitment and ability to play a physical style without undue risk. As for whether the Barrie hit and suspension will make him gun-shy, he said it will be in his head, but he believes in his efforts to alter his approach and feels confident that will keep him on track.

In addition to his physical presence, Cooke thinks the Wild can benefit from his ability to communicate with teammates during the game, helping the team to maintain an even keel, and his playoff experience. He's also eager to help on the penalty kill.

Yeo said Cooke will play a specific role for the Wild as a strong-checking forward who is difficult to play against. He urged Cooke to play with confidence and said he would talk to him to make sure he does not feel hesitant.

"The last several years, he's been able to play the physical type of game, but play it honest and hard without going over the line,'' Yeo said. "That's what we're going to need from him again.''

Yeo also said something that should quell the concerns about Ryan Suter's health. Suter appeared to injure his left shoulder or arm in a collision with Marian Hossa in Tuesday's Game 3, but he returned to the game. Wednesday, Yeo noted that although some players came to the rink for treatment on the off day, Suter was not among them.

That's all the news from a relatively quiet Xcel today. Russo will return tomorrow.

--Rachel Blount

Wild happy to be home, looking to rebound Tuesday

Posted by: Michael Russo Updated: May 6, 2014 - 8:38 AM

Update: I'll be hosting a live chat today at 3 p.m. at www.startribune.com/wild. Please join in.

Ginormous Game 3 to say the least if you’re the Wild.

The Wild will be looking for some Xcel Energy Center electricity Tuesday night when the Wild returns home with another 2-0 series deficit, this time to the Chicago Blackhawks. Last round, the Wild put forth two outstanding efforts to even the series going back to Denver.

Of course, it eventually won that series to advance to the second round.

Monday, the Wild had the day off after coach Mike Yeo felt like the team was running on fumes for parts of Game 2 in Chicago. Remember, the Wild played last Wednesday in Denver, won in overtime, flew to Chicago and arrived about 5 a.m. Thursday. It played Game 1 vs. the Hawks on Friday, then had to play an afternoon game Sunday.

So it makes sense, but the Wild better find the energy quick and the hope is the team refueled today.

A few guys did skate today, but mostly the extras and regulars Charlie Coyle, Dany Heatley and Clayton Stoner were around the rink getting treatment, working out, working on sticks, etc. The coaches were all in the back trying to make the necessary tactical adjustments.

Ilya Bryzgalov is expected to get the Game 3 start. John Curry and Josh Harding were two of the guys who did skate today.

For Chicago, Andrew Shaw did not make the trip for Game 3. The Hawks will fly back to Chicago after the game and return for Game 4 Friday (8:30 p.m. game, by the way), so coach Joel Quenneville said Shaw is a possibility for the second part of the Hawks’ trip.

Because I’m running on fumes and haven’t been home since last Tuesday, here’s some cut and paste quotes. I’ll also be on KFAN at 5:15 p.m., on KFAN at 9:55 a.m. Tuesday and on Fox Sports North’s pregame show around 7:10 p.m. Tuesday.

YEO:

Any lineup changes? “I’ll update more on our lineup tomorrow. Obviously, we’ll look at whatever we have to do going forward. We’ve spent a lot of time discussing things, but we’re not finalized with anything yet.”

Adjustments? “I feel last game, it looked like maybe a lack of energy caused some things tactically where we weren’t sharp enough. Puck support, in particular for me, and just sort of the spacing between our players, whether it’s in our checking game or whether it’s when we have the puck. Again, a little more jump, a little more in our step and the difference between three feet is big.”

How much is it mental that Chicago has beaten the Wild in six of seven playoff games? “Maybe. That’s part of it and we have to overcome that for sure. I think we played these guys better in the regular season. Is aid after last night that I felt like these last two games were different from last year. I spent a lot of time looking at and going over my notes from last year and looking at stats, and I think that, statistically, it shows that it’s been different. I don’t feel like we’ve played our two best games by any means, but I look at puck possession this year compared to last year and I see a big difference. Scoring chance wise, same thing. Where I felt we were outplayed last year, I feel like these have been pretty even games. Like I said, a play or two here or there and we could easily be coming home with a split and feeling much better about ourselves. But that said, it’s still a great team. Can’t forget about the fact that they built a lot of momentum in their last series playing against a very, very good St. Louis team, winning four straight against them. I think they’ve come into our series with a lot of momentum, a lot of confidence and we have to try and stop that.”

On one power play last game: “We’ve got to draw more power plays for sure. Usually you do that when you’re moving your feet, when you’re playing with speed. It can be off the rush, but it can also be in the offensive zone where we’re moving our feet, we’re forcing somebody to hook, we’re forcing somebody to hold. Again, I don’t think that we had enough of that. I don’t think we saw a lot of guys carrying pucks last night, skating, taking open ice. For whatever reason, we seemed to have our feet planted. Hopefully the energy part of it – that’s all it is. Hopefully the confidence of coming back home and just sort of the mentality of let’s go make the play, that’ll be what we’re looking for.”

How good is Chicago defensively? “I will never hide from that fact. I’ll give those guys a ton of credit. You look at what they’ve done the last four years. Night in and night out, this is a team that can hurt you in the way they play offensively, they can hurt you in how they can capitalize on their opportunities, but this is a team that’s not easy to play against. This is a team that checks very well. It’s a team that has good depth. They can put out different guys against different lines and different pairings against different lines, and they’re very consistent in their checking game. Especially I think a large part of that is the way they skate. They play a fast game in how they play without the puck, in the same way that they play a fast game with the puck. So you’ve got to be ready to make quick plays, you’ve got to be ready to make fast decisions.

On all his slumping players: “I think the more pressure starts to build on a player, the more they start to think about that stuff, they start to get themselves in a bit of a deeper hole. We’ve talked about it almost like quicksand a little bit, the more you struggle, the deeper you get. That’s why it’s really important to make sure that you’re focused on the game, make sure that you’re focused on your play. What are the things that you’re doing when you’re successful? What are the things that you are doing to create scoring chance, to give yourself the best chance to capitalize on an opportunity like that? And I think that’s what’s critical, not only for individuals as far as wanting to score a goal, but for our team as far as wanting to win a game too. We have to stay focused on the little things. We have to stay focused on our process and trust that result will be there at the end for you.”

Being 3-0 at home: “I think we’ve played these guys well in our building. I think we’ve played well in our building all year. I think that our fans have something to do with it. It’s going to be really loud and we feed off that, and certainly it’s more of a challenge for the opposition. I think that they do have more experience dealing with that. I do think that this is a very good team and a very good road team, but there’s no reason we shouldn’t be confident. It’s going to be a hard game. We know that. We recognize that. Like I said, this is a great opponent. They’ve had the success that they’ve had for a reason, and they’ve had it against different teams. So, our focus has to be on ourselves. Our focus has to be on tomorrow, getting excited for that game and not looking past anything from that.”

On Moulson’s game slipping besides the offense:  “For me, hopefully, that’s the challenge for all players. That’s the challenge for the team. When things haven’t gone well, and this is something hopefully we can draw upon from last series, is we had times where things didn’t go our way and things we’re difficult, but the ability to come back to the rink and just put everything in the garbage and just get reset and refocused on the next game, that’s the only challenge. That’s the only thing that matters. To me, whether you’ve had success or whether you haven’t had success, what’s in the past has to be in the past, and the only thing that I want is for guys to be excited to play that game tomorrow.”

CHARLIE COYLE

0-2 deficit: We’ve been here before. Right now we just have to focus on the next one. That’s all we have to do. We said that last series too and we came out and got a win here and everything went well the next game. We’ve got to come out and prove that and play well.

Why the low-energy level: I don’t know. You get so high up after that Game 7 win and you feel great. You go to Chicago and I don’t know if we just kind of went through the motions or why after that such a high. You lose that game and all of a sudden it feels like it’s the end of the world again. We’ve got to get back to staying on that even-keel and not getting too high or too low. As of right now, we’ve got to put those games behind us.

On the lack of feistiness: We definitely haven’t shown what we’re capable of. We haven’t been on our game. We haven’t had that grittiness that we brought last series. I think being at home right now is good for us and usually brings out the best in us, being here and playing here.

Ttough team to be feisty against with no Shaw, Bollig: I think the last two games we’ve kind of just got caught playing their way. We need to get back to playing our game and doing what we do best. When we play our game and we’re on, we play good. Sometimes during the game some things don’t go your way, you kind of change up what you’re doing right. I think we did that the last two games.

On Corey Crawford: Yeah, he’s playing well. He’s a good goalie. We just have to find ways to get more pucks at the net. Two shots in the first. We can’t wait until the second and third to start firing pucks and take away his eyes and get traffic. We’ve got to start from the beginning so it’s a full 60. We’ve got to use every minute to our advantage. We have to fire pucks at him because he’s a good goalie.

On rebounding: There’s nothing to save it for now. It’s end of the year, playoff time. We need to get our energy up. We know we still have it. We’ve just got to go out and prove it and show it. We have to the team to do it. We’ve done it before. We did it last series when things weren’t going our way and we changed things around.

Mental: Yeah, that can wear on you, I think. You know you’re going against a good team. You can go back to last year and say, ‘Oh, these guys beat us’ but it’s a new year. We’ve got put that behind us. I think everyone is comfortable with our group compared to last year. We like where we’re at. We like our team, we like our guys we have in this locker room. We should go out and prove our game and bring it to them. That’s all we’ve got to do.

CLAYTON STONER

“I think this home crowd is going to help us. We've always played good at home, for the most part, throughout the season, and I think we can use that to our advantage and try to take the momentum back.”

Different to coming back against Chicago compared to Colorado?

“I don't see a lot of difference. If we stay with our structure and pick our intensity up, make some better plays and finish our scoring chances, I feel like we can take the series over. There's a lot of belief in this room after coming back against Colorado and they're a good team, too. They finished No. 1 in the division, so they're a good team.

Day off to energize or bigger problems?

“Definitely the day off's gonna help. We did look a little bit tired in the game and I think a lot of it is just re-charging the batteries a little bit. But, at the same time, it's just re-setting the mind and just trying to take this one game at a time, kind of like we did last series, use the home crowd to our advantage and play the way we can.”

Mental having lost six of seven in playoffs.

“I don't feel that there's any mental block with this team. The last two games, I felt we could win both games and we're not that far off. It's not like they're killing us out there. They're capitalizing on their chances and we're not. I think the belief in the room is very strong. As much as we respect them, I don't think that we think they're a better team.”

Chicago's shot blockers:

“They do a real good job of fronting and blocking shots. Their 'D' stand in front of the net and they're not afraid to stop as many pucks as the goalie does, it feels like. I think we're gonna have to get more traffic to the net and put a little more onus on the defensemen to get that puck through and get a rebound there for the forwards to bang in.”

Feel different from last year?

“It's a different group. A different feel going into playoffs. A different feel in the first round. There's a lot of belief in here. I think we're a good team, I know we're a good team, and we're going up against a good team, but at the same time, we believe that we can make a run at the Cup. We have a lot of depth this year we didn't have last year. We have more experience in the lineup. Just a whole different group and a different feel all season.”

DANY HEATLEY

“you don’t want to be down 0-2 again. But we’re excited to come back home. We play well in this building. Exciting to get going.”

“every series, every team as you go through this playoff year it’s going to get tougher. Chicago’s a great team, defending champions. But I think in both those games we felt we were in both of them. We could have had a chance to win both of them. Having said that there’s a lot of things that we’ve got to do better and we know that.”

“I think we feel comfortable here. We’re excited. This is a real loud building gin the playoffs. I know the fans, the town’s excited to watch tomorrow. And we’ve played well here all year. It’s important to be good in your rink and we have and we’ve got to continue to do that this playoffs.”

Lost 6 of 7 vs. them: “first of all I think this year and last year are completely different. I think we have a different group in here. You guys can run whatever numbers you want but I think we believe we can beat this team and it starts tomorrow.”

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