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.’’
I’ve probably never had so many mixed emotions about a local coach as I have had about Mike Yeo.
He’s a bundle of admirable characteristics. He’s likeable. He’s about as honest as anyone in his profession. And he probably became an NHL head coach before any team other than the Wild would have even considered him.
To avoid irrational exuberance after the two best Wild games/game experiences I’ve ever witnessed, I’ll keep this simple:
Yeo, faced with a messy goalie situation and lacking any pure goal scorers, has had his team in position to win three of the four games in the series. In the other – the Game 2 loss – his team dominated the first period before crumbling.
I’ve been debating some of my 1500ESPN friends about Yeo. I can’t say I would have hired him. But I think he’s doing the job admirably.
The Wild’s energy level, defensive system and puck support have been outstanding. Young players like Mikael Granlund and Jonas Brodin have developed, and role players seem to shine when he calls upon them.
I think that has something to do with coaching.
Wrote about the Wild’s sheer dominance for my column.
Postgame, when I asked Zach Parise about Granlund’s three blocks in the final two minutes – one when he didn’t even have his stick – Parise gushed, ``That was awesome!’’
That sums it up.
Wild fans can be rather passive during the regular season. The last two games, and especially on Thursday, they created one the best game-day experiences in recent Twin Cities history. (At least the past four years.)
I had friends in the stands who said this is as good as its gotten at Wild games since their one playoff run.
Now we see if they can shut down Nate MacKinnon on his home ice, when Yeo doesn’t have the advantage of matching lines.
I love playoff hockey almost as much as I hate regular-season hockey.
Best moment of the night: When time expired, half the bench rushed to Darcy Kuemper for the traditional post-win goalie hug...and the rest of the bench rushed to envelop Granlund.
I'll b on 1500ESPN at 12:15 or so tomorrow with Mackey & Judd. I'll be in Colorado for Game 5, and will call in to Sunday Sports Talk, 10-noon on 1500ESPN, before heading back for Game 6.
The Wild were overwhelmed in Game 2, losing 5-2. Josh Harding recorded 43 saves but had no chance against waves of Blackhawks chances.
Wrote about Mikko Koivu being minus-3 with three penalties for the Saturday paper. My other takeaways:
-Devin Setoguchi played well, coming close to scoring in the first period and scoring in the second to make it 2-1, Chicago.
-Zach Parise is the Moses Malone of hockey. He gets shot after shot from point-blank range, but sometimes that pads his rebound totals more than his scoring totals. He had seven saves in the first two periods, two off the team record set by Marian Gaborik, but did not get off a shot in the third. He has yet to score a point in this series.
-The Wild was more careful with Ryan Suter's ice time tonight, limiting him to 24:36. He was minus-2.
-Only three Wild players had a positive rating for the night: Marco Scandella, Matt Cullen and Jason Zucker were all plus-1.
-The Wild was outshot 48-28.
-Koivu took three of the Wild's five penalties.
Schedule notes: Michael Russo and I will be flying back early tomorrow to cover the Wild practice (or media sessions). We'll have stuff in the Sunday paper previewing the Wild's first home playoff game since 2008.
I'll be co-hosting Sunday Sports Talk from 10-noon, following the Ron Gardenhire Show on 1500ESPN.
Checking in from the United Center in Chicago, where the Wild is about to skate.
Niklas Backstrom took a commercial flight to Chicago, which is fascinating. I would still expect Josh Harding to start tonight, but Backstrom probably wouldn't be here if he didn't have any chance of playing.
I'd start Harding regardless of Backstrom's readiness. Harding played great on Tuesday. He's acting loose and confident. He's playing with house money. I'd give him a shot rather than hoping Backstrom is recovered from his mystery injury.
What you get from the Chicago media is that the Blackhawk players regret coming out so slowly in Game 1 and plan to correct that tonight. The Wild may have to survive an emotional start.
I'm in Chicago, so I missed the Flip Saunders press conference.
Flip is a smart guy with tons of NBA experience. He could be a very good GM. The question is, can he stay in his lane, or is he taking this job with an eye toward coaching in the future?
As GM, it's his job to make Rick Adelman want to come back. What kind of vibe is Adelman going to get when he talked to Flip about that? Friday morning, Flip wouldn't say he isn't interested in coaching sometime in the future. Does Adelman want to work for his eventual replacement? In some ways, he was better off working for David Kahn, because Kahn had to hand over power to Adelman for Adelman to take the job. Flip will not be handing over any power.
I'll be covering the Wild skate and Game 2 tonight. I'll be on 1500ESPN with Judd & Dubay at noon. My Twitter handle is @Souhanstrib.
If you had never seen an NHL playoff hockey game before, Tuesday's night's in United Center would have been a great introduction.
I wrote about Josh Harding for the paper. Here are my thoughts on other topics related to the game:
-Jason Zucker makes some rookie mistakes, but his speed and aggression can win you a game. He drew two penalties on Tuesday night and almost scored the winner off a faceoff in overtime.
-I don't know how Ryan Suter does it. He played a game-high 41:08 Tuesday. The Wild player with the next-highest total ice time was his defensive partner, Jonas Brodin, who played 34:20. And those were all stressful minutes against an excellent team.
Suter was outstanding, and Brodin seems to keep getting better. He's a brilliant skater and remarkably calm with the puck for a rookie.
No Blackhawk was on the ice for more than defenseman Michal Rozsival's 27:11.
-Fatigue could be a big factor in the series. The Blackhawks are deeper and were the superior team after the Wild bottled them up in the first period. I saw Matt Cullen leave the ice with an apparent injury, and he would be a major loss if he can't return for Game 2.
-I actually saw Pierre Marc-Bouchard throw a body check. That's when my cohort Michael Russo said, ``It must be the playoffs.''
-Wild coach Mike Yeo defended his first line after the game. Mikko Koivu, Zach Parise and Charlie Coyle managed a combined five shots. Yeo said they played well defensively, which is true. But the Wild needs scoring from that line and that line was rarely an offensive threat.
-Eden Prairie native and former Wild prospect Nick Leddy wasn't on the ice for any of the goals, and put two shots on net.
-The Wild's lack of size on defense is most evident on the power play. Andrew Shaw spends a lot of time in front of Harding. Suter battled him aggressively, but Jared Spurgeon can't move him.
-The magic question is whether playing so well in Game 1 and losing is a positive or a negative for the Wild. Does it set the tone for a competitive series, or this the Wild getting its best chance to win a game (or a game on the road) and missing its opportunity.
The concern for the Wild is that its players performed extremely well, played physically, blocked a lot of shots and got a tremendous goaltending performance and still lost. Is this team capable of playing like that every night?
I'll discuss with Judd & Dubay at noon on 1500ESPN every day this week. My Twitter handle is @Souhanstrib.
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