For the Wild, it's fight or the end

  • Article by: MICHAEL RUSSO , Star Tribune
  • Updated: May 9, 2013 - 6:58 AM

The Wild’s task: Stave off elimination — and maybe save jobs — despite an AWOL offense and issues in goal.

– The Wild boarded a chartered aircraft for a relatively quick flight to Chicago Midway International Airport on Wednesday afternoon.

It was the first time the team gathered since blowing its chance to even the Western Conference quarterfinals at two games apiece on Tuesday night.

The Wild opted not to practice. Instead, it checked in to a downtown Chicago hotel and congregated inside a banquet hall for a video session.

It’s safe to say remedying the Wild’s sterile power play was tops on the itinerary.

“More importantly, we have other things to discuss, too,” coach Mike Yeo said cryptically.

Yeo preferred to keep what would be uttered in-house, but with the Wild’s season on the line in Game 5 on Thursday night against the Blackhawks, it’s safe to say a challenge was delivered.

After all, the Wild is on the verge of elimination.

The big guns — Mikko Koivu and Zach Parise — aren’t scoring and, worse yet, continue to play large roles in goals against (combined minus-11). The secondary scorers aren’t stepping up. The Nos. 1 and 2 goaltenders are both banged up. And the power play (0-for-15) continues to be disastrous.

Frankly, the Wild might be back to where it was 12 days ago when it faced a must-win situation in Denver to even make the playoffs. Jobs — coaches, players and beyond — could be on the line if the Wild bows out without a fight.

“We can’t be hanging our heads,” center Kyle Brodziak said. “It’s desperation time now. There’s no room for sulking or anything like that. Our backs are up against the wall, and now we’ve got to fight for our lives.”

Yeo kept potential Game 5 adjustments close to the vest Wednesday. He wouldn’t discuss possible line changes or lineup changes. He wouldn’t discuss power-play personnel adjustments or strategic changes.

He wouldn’t even provide an indication as to whether Niklas Backstrom or Josh Harding, both hampered by lower-body injuries, or rookie Darcy Kuemper would be given the nod in goal at United Center.

“We like to keep the other team guessing,” Yeo said, jokingly. “So we’re not only going to not tell them who our starting goalie is, we won’t tell them who our backup goalie is. Really leave them in the dark.”

With the Wild having scored only six times in the series and the power play a dreadful 0-for-15, we should see some tinkering there. Most critically, the Wild must find a way to get more movement in order to get Blackhawks penalty killers out of shooting lanes.

Chicago blocked 26 shots overall in a 3-0 victory Tuesday. Yeo said it’s up to the coaches to make the right moves, “whether it’s personnel, whether it’s tactical” to “give our players a good chance to succeed there.”

It all comes down to execution, and not only on the power play.

“Even look at the first period, we got three 2-on-1s, we don’t get a shot on net,” Yeo said.

Veteran Matt Cullen conceded that one of the guiltiest parties was his line, which includes Jason Zucker and Devin Setoguchi. After a strong Game 3, the trio combined for no shots in Game 4. He said it wasn’t because of any Chicago adjustments.

“We had plenty of opportunities coming through the neutral zone to maybe create something that was awfully close to being three-on-twos or two-on-ones,” Cullen said. “We put a lot of passes in the feet and just maybe a foot ahead or a foot behind. You don’t have much margin for error.”

Koivu doesn’t have a point in the series. Parise has only one goal. Brodziak says it’s up to others to step up.

“We understand that they’re playing their best players and defenders against our top guys,” he said. “It makes it very difficult for them. That’s when depth has to step up.”

The most important thing Thursday, defenseman Tom Gilbert said, it to “not think of the climb we have to win this series.”

If that happens, it’ll be overwhelming and infiltrate Game 5.

“We can’t sit here and dwell on what’s happened,” Yeo said. “We can’t feel sorry for ourselves. This is where we’re at. We got ourselves here, so we have to get ourselves out of it.”



 

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