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 returns home on the brink of elimination to the defending champs

Posted by: Michael Russo under Wild game coverage Updated: May 12, 2014 - 1:27 AM

The Wild’s backs are against the proverbial wall yet again.

The Wild, which has still yet to lead either playoff series (well, other than Nino Niederreiter’s OT winner that gave the Wild a 4-3 series win over Colorado last round; but you know what I mean), lost 2-1 tonight to the Blackhawks to return to Minnesota down 3-2 in this best-of-seven second round.

The Wild is 5-0 at home, having outscored Colorado and Chicago 16-5. Game 6 is Tuesday night at 8 p.m. (CNBC).

The Wild had control of this game tonight after one period, carrying a 1-0 lead into the second on Erik Haula’s awesome end-to-end goal and making the restless Blackhawks fans squirm as it resembled the hard-working, stingy team that won Games 3 and 4 in Minnesota.

But the Blackhawks came out a different team in the second and suddenly forced the Wild into turnovers, several long shifts in its own zone and very few offensive chances. The Wild couldn’t win any battles, couldn’t skate, was soft on pucks, etc.

Nino Niederreiter said the Wild got loose in its game and lost its focus. Zach Parise said the Wild stopped skating and moving its feet. Kyle Brodziak let slip some of its desperation level.

You can read the gamer for most the details, but coach Mike Yeo said, “We got a little bit soft in our game. I don’t know if we had the mentality that we were going to try to sit on our lead or what. I didn’t feel that we were pressuring, I didn’t feel that we were finishing checks, I didn’t feel that we were competing on loose pucks and moving our feet like we were in the first period.

“It’s not [the] gameplan. The players don’t want to do that. We just fell into the trap of trying to hang on to something that we want to have happen (being up 3-2 in the series and advancing to the conference finals) and we fell victim to it.”

If not for Ilya Bryzgalov, the Wild would have been trailing going into the third. Instead, he held it to 1-1 after Bryan Bickell deflected Patrick Kane’s shot on a power play. It was the third time in the series that Chicago scored with Jonas Brodin in the bin.

The third period, the Wild’s fourth line came out with a real good shift to try to get some momentum back. Brodziak stole two pucks and set up a Cody McCormick chance, but Corey Crawford made one of his 27 saves.

Then, at 4:33 in, Jonathan Toews scored the go-ahead goal. It came at the end of a 52-second shift, one in which Marian Hossa made a great move in the corner to evade Mikael Granlund. Hossa, who has nine points in five games this series and 15 in 10 playoff games against the Wild, then skated away from Ryan Suter, who was beaten to a loose puck earlier in the shift.

Suter went to the front of the net. Hossa passed to Patrick Sharp, who fired. The rebound popped in the air. Suter gloved it into the slot, but Hossa put it back on net and Toews, who had no trouble getting free of Granlund, scored by putting the rebound off Nate Prosser’s stick and in.

Heck of a shift by the captain.

Wild captain Mikko Koivu wasn’t as noticeable. He had no shots, two giveaways and lost 17 of 29 faceoffs (59 percent). He has seven shots in five games during the series.

Jason Pominville also had a tough night. I don’t know if he’s hurt or what, but he has been banged around a few times this series and just looked slow and tired. He had two shots but lost some glaring board battles and puck battles, especially in the third period.

Parise had four shots, some turnovers.

I see a big topic on Twitter after the game was the Wild’s alignment in the final minute of the period.

Yeo pulled Ilya Bryzgalov with more than two minutes to go in the game, so Koivu, Parise, Pominville, Granlund, Suter and Brodin were gassed and went to the bench for a line change. Yeo had already used his timeout, so his next set was Brodziak, Charlie Coyle, Niederreiter, Dany Heatley, Marco Scandella and Jared Spurgeon.

Obviously, it’s tough to stomach when you lose a one-goal game and your best players are on the bench.

Yeo explained Brodziak was out there because they needed a right-shot center on his strong side (Haula lost 5 of 8 draws) and Koivu and Granlund were tired. Coyle and Niederreiter are obviously big bodies.

On Heatley, he said, “He’s a guy that scored goals and he’s one of our leading scorers in the playoffs and he’s a great net-front presence, so … you’ve got to make sure you have fresh bodies on. That’s what happens when you pull the goalie with two minutes to go.”

(Of course, when Paul Stastny scored with 13 seconds left in Game 1, that was at the end of all six guys being on the ice for all three minutes with the net empty; lots of stoppages in there, to be fair).

I get the Brodziak explanation, but I'd still prefer Haula somewhere on the ice somehow. Of course, Wild may not even be in this series without Heatley to Brodziak to Niederreiter. So, whatever, the last alignment is not why the Wild lost.

Yeo tried to scramble lines in the second to give the Wild a boost. Most notably, he flipped Coyle and a struggling Pominville. A few times he reunited Parise-Koivu-Coyle, and that led to some good shifts. But the momentum never carried.

“We weren't generating anything and more on that, I didn't feel we were generating any momentum,” Yeo said. “It's not like we were generating chances. More so, we just weren't getting any kind of sustained pressure, any kind of zone time.”

On the loss, Yeo said, “Obviously when you lose, you're frustrated, you're mad. But I think there's been enough in this series where we should feel confident still. That said, we also recognize that we'd better be ready.”

Chicago Sun-Times beat writer Mark Lazerus tweeted that the Blackhawks have not lost a playoff game after a series has been tied 2-2 in the Toews/Kane era. They’re now 13-0 in Games 5 and 6 in such series.

Toews said, “We know it’s going to take our best game and we know we haven’t played it yet, so it’s perfect timing.”

More Toews: “I think as a group we always recognize when we don’t bring the right effort. I don’t think we were flat by any means, but slowly as the game went on we found ways to play better as a five-man unit. Once one line would go out there and generate a good shift and get us some energy, the next line would follow it right up. That’s when we’re an effective team. We got that more in the second. That’s the way we want to play and the way we’ve been looking to play the last few games.”

You can read the Wild gamer for some more Wild quotes, but the Wild was in this position before and rallied to win. It must do so again, and we know, the Wild has been dominant at home. We’ll see if it can at least force a Game 7 Thursday here in Chicago.

“Same situation as last series. That’s it,” Haula said. “Just like last series, we just have to forget about it and go home and get it.”

Haula, on his goal where he blew by Patrick Kane and Duncan Keith and scored on his own rebound, by the way: “Once I got past the blue line I was just thinking quick shot. And then I got the rebound and got a lucky bounce to get it in. He made a great save and the puck just went up in the air.’’

Here’s some postgame Blackhawks quotes compiled by our stringer, Blake Schuster (@schustee19)

Hossa

·      (Toews)

o   He’s unbelievable. That’s why he’s a superstar. He’s a greta leader on and off the ice and he finds a way to score big goals. Tonight was a great example, he goes hard to the net and we had the puck there and then put it in the net.

·      (more shots on goal this game, what changed in 2P?)

o    We just talking about, they do such a great job blocking shots, and it’s really hard to get A-plus chances on this team. So from the corner, just put the puck on the goalie’s feet and go for rebounds. A good example on the second goal.

§   

o   The crowd was frustrated, we were frustrated. We knew after the first one we just came to dressing room, we just had to relax, come back. We knew how we need to play, so we need to just take a deep breath, relax and play hard. I think in the second and third, we were better, and everybody’s happy after the game.

Regin

·       

·      I thought it went all right. I was a little nervous before the game but I tried to focus on the positive things. I’ve been rested and tried to be excited instead of being too nervous about having not played in a while. I tried to think positive and just go out and play pretty much.

·       

o   Talk about the play the drew the penalty

·      Duncs made a good play back in the middle to me. I was kind of expecting it actually, such a good player. I knew he saw me. Once I got it, you kind of just go by and see a couple guys coming at me. You just go by instinct and try to get by them.

·       

·       

o   Getting that penalty, emblematic of effort you want?

·      Overall, I thought we got the net more, shot more pucks at the net. I tried to get to the net. I tried to get by the guys but I think everybody across the board tried to get the puck to the net more than we did in the previous games.

Corey Crawford

·           (on Toews)

·                      “An amazing goal. They play hard defensively, they box out pretty good. We need to get pucks and bodies to the net and score on rebounds or screen shots. Battle in front of the net, and that’s what Jon did. 

·      A great goal right there.

                “He’s done it a bunch of times, so many you tend to forget a little bit. He’s definitely relentless, and scores in so many different ways he’s hard to stop.

Talk to you after Monday’s Wild availability in Minnesota.

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