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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Wild in familar spot, down 2-0 to Chicago. But this has different feel than Colorado series

Posted by: Michael Russo under Wild game coverage Updated: May 4, 2014 - 8:11 PM

The Wild trailed 2-0 against Colorado last round, too. This 2-0 series to the Chicago Blackhawks has a different feel though.

Against the Avs, the Wild had the puck 65 percent of the time. Against the Avs, the Wild forced turnovers galore and often put together sustained pressure and suffocating forechecks. Against the Avs, the Wild scored 22 goals (3.1 a game) and 14 in four games in Denver (3.5 a game).

In Friday’s Game 1, 5-2, loss to Chicago, the Wild missed the net 18 times and maddeningly couldn’t score timely goals when it was controlling play. In Sunday’s 4-1 loss to Chicago, the Wild had 25 shots blocked … and maddeningly couldn’t score timely goals when it was controlling play.

The Wild got off to a terrible start, being outshot 7-2 in the first, behind responding to some necessary line juggling in the second. But, as is its MO, the Wild couldn’t score, was the victim of a suspect hooking penalty on Justin Fontaine and that’s all it took for Brandon Saad to make it 2-0 two seconds after the Blackhawks power play expired.

Like I said, this series has a different feel. First of all, the Wild’s playing against the defending champs, a team experienced in the playoffs, not the newbie Avs. Second of all, the Wild’s playing against likely Norris winner Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook, Johnny Oduya and Niklas Hjalmarsson, four solid, experienced, mobile defensemen, not the newbie Avs who could be exposed easily.

The Wild seemed flat in several areas, and coach Mike Yeo concurred afterward, saying the seven-game series caught up to Minnesota in Sunday’s afternoon game. That’s why I felt Game 1 was integral to win. Against the more rested team when you’re the team coming off a long, draining, emotional series, it usually catches up to the tired team later in the next round.

So Yeo will give the Wild Monday off and pray to the Hockey Gods that his running-on-fumes players, especially his big guns who were all missing in action Sunday, refuel.

“To me, one thing that was clear right from the start and I’m surprised we didn’t see more of it last game, but I thought we didn’t have the legs tonight and that was a big factor,” Yeo said. “You could see it in our puck support. You could see it when we get a puck and we weren’t taking two, three strides before we made a play. We were making a lot of stationary plays, wide stance.”

Zach Parise was minus-3 today and is now minus-10 in seven playoff games against Chicago dating to last year. Mikko Koivu was minus-2 and is now minus-9 dating to last year against Chicago. Koivu slowed long enough on the backcheck of Marian Hossa’s breakaway that Jonathan Toews, who had hooked Koivu at the blue line, was free to score the game’s first goal after Ilya Bryzgalov made a great save on Hossa’s initial shot.

Yeo gave Koivu a pass at least publicly. He blamed Nate Prosser for not getting the puck deep and turning it over and he blamed Clayton Stoner for being unaware that Hossa was cherry-picking behind him.

“The first goal is a breakdown,” Yeo said. “It’s not on Mikko because he’s joining and supporting a play. It happens. But we turned the puck over and we weren’t counting numbers. And then unfortunately there were a couple other breakdowns along the way. That one wasn’t on Mikko. There were
three other plays before that.”
 

One major, major issue is Matt Moulson. Yeo can’t find a foot for the slow-footed forward who seems to be decelerating any line he’s on. Moulson’s a forechecker, but his puck support was poor today like many and he’s not getting to the net enough.

Asked about Moulson, Yeo said, “We were mixing up a lot of things trying to get guys going. We’re
going back home and us as a staff will make sure that we do what we have to do as far as not just standing pat. But at the same time, we do have to have a bit of a short memory here. This is a good team we
played. You can’t let them get in your head. They found a way to win two games, well, you know what we have to do our job now. Let’s go win our two games at home. We can’t get caught in two big of a picture
here because we’re right where we were last series. And I know that we’re playing a different eam but the last team that we played was pretty good. Next game only thought, only challenge.”

Remember, when the Wild trailed 2-0 to Colorado, it returned home and Yeo made a couple changes, putting in Dany Heatley and Justin Fontaine for Kyle Brodziak and Stephane Veilleux.

With Matt Cooke suspended until Game 4, the only extra besides Mike Rupp (who is likely not an option because of his skating) is Veilleux, so my guess is Yeo gives Moulson another chance to make an impact and if he doesn’t, Cooke gets in for Moulson in Game 4. But this is a serious issue right now. Moulson’s turning pucks over and has been completely ineffective all postseason.

“You can’t let yourself get frustrated,” he said. “You have to play your game, and for me, that’s getting around the net and putting in those dirty goals. You just have to tell yourself to keep working and try to raise it up another level.”

What was so frustrating about the two games in Chicago is the Wild did play well for stretches. But every time it got chances, it couldn’t score and then the Blackhawks would come down and somebody like its white whale, Bryan Bickell, scored. Bickell scored another back-breaker today and has six goals in seven playoff games against the Wild. This guy was awful during the regular season, but it’s become his MO: Every time the calendar turns from regular season to playoffs, he earned his regular-season salary.

The Wild? Its big guns are no-shows (when Justin Fontaine, Erik Haula, Nino Niederreiter and Cody McCormick are your best forwards, you’re in trouble) and the Wild aggravatingly misses empty-nets like there’s no tomorrow. If the Wild could have scored on one of those 18 missed nets or three posts in Game 1, it’s a different game (see Mikael Granlund). Today, Haula and Dany Heatley missed empty nets.

““We weren't that far off,” Yeo said. “Even though, again I know we can play better. We weren't that far off. That game was hanging for us. It's a 1-0 game, and we got a couple empty nets. We can't find a way to put it in. I didn't agree with the call to put them up 2-0. Then you're chasing, and it's hard when you're chasing. We've been chasing for three games now. One of these games we've got to find a way to grab a lead and play with it.
 

“We know we have to be ready to go when we get home. We have to make sure we get the rest that we need. We have to make sure we do what we have to do. Last series, I thought we did a great job staying positive. Despite the fact that we were down 2-0, we still believed we could win. That to me is the No. 1 thing. When I look at these last two games, I know we can be better, but we're not that far off. We're a play or two each game away from being at least with a split right now. I think there's positives in that. The fact that we've been a good home team. That should bring confidence. I know our fans are going to be jacked up. It's going to be a loud building, it's going to be exciting. We look forward to that opportunity.”

Yeo made clear that even though the players have Monday off, the coaching staff will be working trying to make tactical changes and other adjustments. He made clear that Bryzgalov is the guy in net with Darcy Kuemper hurt and Josh Harding not an option right now.

“We’re not going to sit around waiting for another option,” Yeo said. “This is the guy. So let’s quit even talking about it right now. We shouldn’t even be talking about who’s backing up. This is the guy for us right
now. We have to find a way as a team, not just one guy. It’s on him, for sure, but it’s on our group too. It’s on our staff. It’s everybody to find a way to get a win.”

Here’s some other postgame quotes:

CHARLIE COYLE

On Hawks defense: “No, there’s not much room. We knew that coming into here. They’re a tight, defensive team. But we’ve got to get ways to get pucks in behind them and just go to work in their end and just wear them down. We didn’t do enough of that tonight.”

Down 0-2 for second series in a row: “Same mindset. I think we have to put that in our heads that we can still come back, we’ve done it before, and that’s it. We’ve got to put these games behind us. It’s not going to do any good to worry about them now. So just think ahead and we’ve got to win that next one.”

MIKKO KOIVU

“We’ve got to find another notch to win one game and then come back in this series. They’re doing the little things better than us and we have to dins that.”

On being down 0-2, “We have to make it feel like that. We proved that last series, but that doesn’t matter anymore. Game 3’s a huge game. That’s the biggest game of the year for us.”

On the big guns not scoring: “We recognize we have to create more to be a better team. I thought we did that in the second and the third. We have to find another notch to create, but then to score goals too. It’s not easy. That’s a tough team defensively and their goaltender is playing very well right now. We have to find it. We have to be better around their net and find those pucks.”

ZACH PARISE

On Blackhawks defense: “They’re good. They play a good system, they’re mobile D, they block a lot of shots, they’re so good with the puck ,they make good plays and they spring their forwards, and I think we can probably do a better job against them, making them work more.”

Locke room atmosphere: “I’m disappointed that we’re here down 2-0, frustrated. But tonight we understand that we didn’t play nearly well enough to win. I think that’s what we’re upset about, not so much being down 2-0. That’s not fun either, but the way we played tonight wasn’t good enough, and definitely not good enough to beat the Blackhawks.”

Will rest help? “I think it will help. I do think we were a little slow and not as aggressive. I feel like we weren’t moving our feet as well as in previous games. I don’t know why that was, whether we were slow or we just weren’t handling the puck well – sometimes that makes you look slow. I think a day off will help.”

Silver lining going home: “We do feel good there, we’ve played well there and shown we can win there. Bottom line we know we have to play better than this.”

Feel personal pressure for one point in the series? “It’s a team game. We’re down. We should all feel pressure that we’re down 2-0. That’s all.”

Disappointing that you didn’t’ play best game and still had chance to win? “There was still the opportunity. Tonight we didn’t play nearly as well as we need to, and there was still the opportunity, being down 2-1 and having some looks. We’re still down 2-0 in the series.”

TOEWS ON SAAD: "I keep telling him every night he's a monster with that puck. When he's on his game, he keeps his feet moving through traffic and he's slippery. For his size and power, he's able to somehow get around guys and keep the puck on his stick. He's making some great plays. I think when he plays like that, he's opening up room for everyone else. I think that's why he's had so many helpers, so far, but it's nice to see him get on the board. To see one go in is a good feeling for anybody."

SAAD: "You want to take advantage of home ice. It's good to get these two here under our belt and then try to steal one at Minnesota."

You’ll hear plenty from Bryan Bickell in Monday’s paper. Our stringer, Blake Schuster, wrote a good story on him.

COACH Q

BICKELL ON THE TOP LINE: His play all year long was ordinary until the end of the year when he was trending, looking like he was going to play in the playoffs. In the playoffs (last year) we gave him a lot more responsibility and he just seemed to grab it. Got more and more quality and quantity of ice time in big games. He earned it, deserved it, got rewarded I the summer and now he’s playing exactly the same way. We’re happy with the contribution we’re getting from him but I thought he and that line had a special game today.”

2-0 SERIES LEAD: “They’re going to be excited to go home, crowd will be as loud as any building in the league. They’ll have enthusiasm playing in front of their crowd. We want to make sure we go in there, try to get a reasonable start and put ourselves in the game. There are no easy games, no easy series. Never get ahead of yourselves, particularly in the playoffs.”
 

On Nick Leddy getting benched in the third: “Coach’s decision.”

OK, that’s it for me. Wild has Monday off, meaning we’ll get three players via conference call and coach Mike Yeo in the afternoon. Good day.

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