Jim Souhan analyzes the local sports scene and advises you to never take his betting advice. He likes old guitars and old music, never eats press box hot dogs, and can be heard on 1500ESPN at 2:05 p.m. weekdays, and Sundays from 10 a.m.-noon.
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If you're looking for something other than a loss to read about, here's my early-edition column on Charlie Coyle making strides in this series...
By Jim Souhan
Charlie Coyle is turning himself into a promising part of the Wild’s future, whether you frame the future as Monday or 2016.
In a series that began as a showcase for Colorado’s speed-skater, Nathan MacKinnon, Coyle has powered his way to the net and into a starring role as the Wild has tied the first-round Stanley Cup playoff series, two games apiece.
As the Wild prepared to play Game 5 on Saturday night at the Pepsi Center, Avalanche defenseman and Minnesota native Erik Johnson offered an opponents’ view of the only Wild player who has scored more than one goal in the series.
``I think he’s been their horse in this series,’’ Johnson said. ``You’ve really got to watch when he’s on the ice. When you look at some of those big power forwards, he’s so strong coming to the net that if you’re not conscious on your blockouts, he’ll hurt you.
``He’s got such a good stick around the net and he’s big and he goes to those dirty areas. You’ve got to really watch. He’s been their X-factor in the series in terms of scoring those timely goals for them. He’s definitely a lot to handle.’’
After scoring 12 games in 70 games this season, Coyle has scored a team-high three goals in four playoffs games. He scored the game-winner on Game 4, merely by cutting to the net when an unpredictable bounce put the puck almost directly on his stick.
``Going to the net, going hard, getting into traffic and getting the dirty goal, that’s what I’m trying to do,’ Coyle said. ``A goal’s a goal.’’
Coyle emerged as a threat just in time to help the Wild secure a playoff spot, and just in time to tie a thrilling series.
Coyle said he found ``my game’’ late in the season. His coach, Mike Yeo, remembers Coyle breaking out of a slump a bit earlier.
After Coyle scored two goals against Colorado on Jan. 11, he went 15 games without a goal, scored one on …, then went seven more games without a goal. Starting on March 22, he scored goals in three straight games, becoming a late-season threat for a team typically starved for scoring.
``Coach Yeo brought me into the office and had a little talk with me, as he does over the year with whoever,’’ Coyle said. ``He talked to me then about my style of play. I knew it too, but you have to get yourself in that mindset, just playing your game. He definitely said some stuff that stuck with me.’’
``There were a lot of ups and downs,’’ Yeo said. ``There were times where it looked like he was really on top of his game, and like a lot of young kids, there were times when things started to drift away from him.
`` I would say coming out of the Olympic break, maybe two weeks after the Olympic break, that to me was really the point of the season and in his career where he really established himself and his identity as a player. He brought it night after night. That doesn’t mean he scored a goal every night, but his game looked the same every night.
``He was a physical presence, he was strong on the puck. He was an effective player whether he was on the scoresheet or not.’’
Coyle and Mikael Granlund have emerged this series as dangerous young forwards for the Wild. That could resonate the rest of the series, and even this summer. If general manager Chuck Fletcher sees them improving his team’s scoring dramatically enough as early as next season, he may be able to spend money on a goalie or defenseman in free agency, instead of pursuing Thomas Vanek or someone like him.
Coyle is a long way from scaring defensemen, the way MacKinnon does, but his stealthy play around the net seems ideal for playoff hockey.
``He’s really impressed me this year,’’ Johnson said. ``You can kind of see his evolution during the season, how he’s grown as a player. I think if he hasn’t taken that next step already, I think he’s halfway upt the stairs. He’s doing a great job.’’
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